Lady Snowblood (1973) directed by Toshiya Fujita
If you liked Kill Bill, or in my case, loved it, you absolutely must watch Lady Snowblood. It is AMAZING. I really can't put it into any other words. On it's own, it is easily one of the best revenge flicks I've ever seen and when you throw in the Kill Bill connection, it's fun to see where Quentin Tarantino drew his inspiration from. It's all there; the simple plot of revenge (even broken down into chapters), the female assassin, the sword fights, the geysers of blood, the absurdity of its violence, the wonderful set designs, even the same theme song in the end! It's really quite remarkable how much homage Kill Bill pays to this movie, and for good reason, it's just brilliant.
Lady Snowbood opens with the birth of a child born under inauspicious circumstances, on a cold snowy day in the middle of a prison. The mother doesn't survive the childbirth, but not before revealing her final wishes for her "child of the netherworld." The child will be the instrument of her revenge against the people who have so severely wronged her. Thus, the child is raised to become an assassin hellbent on carrying out her mother's revenge. Fast forward to a scene on a snowy night where we see the child, Yuki, now fully grown, in action. And immediately you can tell this movie will be special.
The narrative is broken into four separate chapters, the first to provide Yuki's background story and the next three for each intended target. In the first chapter, we get several flashbacks revealing her mother's tragic tale and the events leading to Yuki's birth. Part of this is done in an interesting magna style, somewhat similar to the anime sequence in Kill Bill. The other part of the first chapter is devoted to Yuki's training as a child, somewhat similar to Uma Thurman's training in Kill Bill Vol. 2 (though that sequence has heavy Chinese kung fu flick overtures that I'm sure played a greater influence). From that part, the rest of the movie follows her mission to find and confront her enemies.
While the body count in Lady Snowblood doesn't quite match Kill Bill's, the sheer force and style of its violence does. This movie is bloody and at times shockingly so, but not in the grotesque guts and gore way of modern Hollywood horror. While the movie is completely serious in nature, the blood and violence is almost comical. Body parts get chopped off and absurd fountains of blood spray and you almost jump back and laugh, asking yourself, "Did that really just happen?" But you are never disgusted or grossed out by it. This stylized violence was something that Tarantino was careful to emulate in Kill Bill, understanding that a more realistic approach would be impossible and ruin the movie.
Female Convict 701 trilogy. I couldn't help but notice just how striking her features are. She has mesmerizing eyes, an elegant and delicate appearing face and she can give you this deep death stare and still look beautiful, which allows her to fit this role perfectly. She plays the part of Yuki with a quiet determination, but quickly springs into action with flashes of fury. She also sings the final song!
Lumping Lady Snowblood together with Kill Bill is inevitable given that the latter can almost be described as a remake. But Lady Snowblood doesn't need Kill Bill as it can easily stand by itself and is a classic in its own right.