Lady Snowblood (Shurayukihime) (1973)

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Released 8-May-2013

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Interviews-Cast & Crew-Lead actress Kaji Meiko & writer Koike Kazuo
Theatrical Trailer-Lady Snowblood and Lady Snowblood 2
Trailer-Eastern Eye trailers x 10
Rating Rated R
Year Of Production 1973
Running Time 96:54
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Toshiya Fujita
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring Meiko Kaji
Toshio Kurosawa
Masaaki Daimon
Miyoko Akaza
Takeo Chii
Noboru Nakaya
Yoshiko Nakada
Akemi Negishi
Kaoru Kusuda
Sanae Nakahara
Hosei Komatsu
Hiroshi Hasegawa
Takehiko Ono
Case Amaray-Opaque-Dual
RPI ? Music Masaaki Hirao


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

     In 1874, in Meiji era Japan, a baby girl is born inside a Tokyo prison as the snow falls heavily outside. The baby is named Yuki, and she has been conceived and born for one reason only: to take revenge upon the gang who raped her mother Sayo and murdered Sayo’s husband and son. Twenty years later, in another snowstorm and before the opening credits have been completed, Yuki (Kaji Meiko), kills her first victim and sets out on the trail of the others. She has become the deadly swordswoman, Lady Snowblood.

     After this dramatic start, we gradually learn the backstory. In 1873 during anti-government and anti-conscription riots, Sayo and her husband arrive at a small village where he is to teach in the local school. But a gang involved in swindling the villagers accuse them of being government agents; they murder the males and rape and torture Sayo for four days. One of the gang then takes Sayo to Tokyo, where she continues to be abused until she murders him. Imprisoned for life for the murder, Sayo entrusts her vengeance to her newborn daughter before dying. Later Yuki is taken from the prison by another inmate and trained in sword skills by a monk until she is ready to avenge her family. One by one she tracks down the surviving gang members and carnage ensues.

     Lady Snowblood (Shurayukihime) is perhaps best known in the West as a direct influence on Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, but it is a magnificent film in its own right. It is based upon a manga by Kazuo Kamimura and Kazuo Koike, the latter being also responsible for the Lone Wolf and Cub and Crying Freeman mangas. Forty years after its release, Lady Snowblood remains as fresh and exhilarating as ever because it is anything but a simple revenge tale. For while Yuki has been born a child of the netherworld and trained to take her revenge without feelings, things are never quite what they seem and moral choices proliferate. For example, when she tracks down Banzo Takemura (Nakaya Noboru), one of the gang, she finds a man who is a wreck; he is a drunk with gambling debts but he has a dutiful daughter Kobue (Nakada Yoshiko) Yuki’s age who is looking after her father, even secretly selling herself so that they have money to eat. So for Yuki to take revenge for the past wrong is to destroy the life of another, innocent of the misdeeds of 20 years before. When following a later lead, Yuki becomes involved with crusading newspaper man and novelist Ryurei Ashio (Kurosawa Toshio), but even he has secrets and choices of his own.

     Added to the moral dilemmas of the plot is the innovative camera techniques employed by director Fujita Toshiya and cinematographer Masaki Tamura. In both action and non-action scenes we get a moving, swaying camera, tilted frames, slow and stop motion and very quick intercutting of frames which does draw attention to itself (and can be somewhat nauseating) but one must remember that this is a film made in 1973 when such techniques were much less frequent than now. As well, much of the film looks absolutely stunning with beautiful sequences at night where the snow is contrasted with the stark black backgrounds, as well as magical seascapes. The film, of course, is very bloody, with limbs and bodies hacked apart and sprays of vibrant red blood covering clothing and faces. But this is never done just to dwell on the gruesome, and indeed some scenes such as a body in the red, blood saturated sea (with more blood in the water than I suspect a body holds) looks stunning in its colours and simplicity.

     In the lead role, diminutive Kaji Meiko is wonderful. She is not a martial artist, and the action scenes are shot close up with jumpy editing; not that it would have been easy to fight in a kimono! But her eyes especially are very expressive and in the quieter moments we can sense that inside herself Yuki is not quite the emotionless killer that she has been born and trained to be. Her scenes with Nakada Yoshiko as Kobue, another dutiful daughter, are especially poignant with hidden thoughts and feelings.

     Another plus is the music. The original score by Hirao Masaaki, like the music in spaghetti westerns, is an integral part of the film audio track. It sounded part spaghetti eastern, part jazz and the two songs sung by lead actress Kaji Meiko found their way onto Tarantino’s soundtrack.

     Lady Snowblood from 1973 is still a magnificent film, as innovative and exhilarating as when it was made. It is beautiful to look at, with an interesting heroine, a good plot, moral dilemmas and action scenes filled with blood and carnage. Lady Snowblood is one cult film whose reputation is well deserved. Simply fabulous.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     Lady Snowblood is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, the original theatrical ratio, and is 16x9 enhanced.

     This forty year old film is quite soft, especially with the constantly swaying camera, although close-ups are fine. Colours are beautiful and deep; the seascapes, autumn leaves, or the snow against a stark black background look great and the blood is a vibrant red, whether spurting into the air from necks or spraying all over the heroine’s white kimono. Blacks are very good although some shadow detail is lost. Skin tones sometimes look slightly red, contrast and brightness is consistent.

     There is nice grain and some aliasing, but the print is blemish and mark free.

     The layer change at 61:54 was at a scene change and resulted in a slight pause.

    English subtitles in US spelling are easy to read and seemed timely. They are mostly in a yellow font but when two people were talking the other dialogue is in a white font. I did not notice any spelling or grammatical errors. On a couple of occasions a “pop up” text appeared in white at the top of the screen to explain certain Japanese terms, such as “Shiba-Gen” or “Ketsuzei Riots”.

     A great looking print with beautiful colours.

Video Ratings Summary
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Shadow Detail
Colour
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Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     The audio is Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 at 224 Kbps, which is not surround encoded. The film was released with mono sound, so this represents the original mix.

     Dialogue was clear. The sound effects were quite sharp; they obviously lacked depth but still worked well. There was no hiss or other problems. As noted, the original score by Hirao Masaaki was an integral part of the film audio track, part spaghetti eastern, part jazz plus songs sung by lead actress Kaji Meiko; overall the score was very effective and suited the film.

    Lip synchronisation was occasionally approximate, especially the person who plays Sir Matsuemon, but was never distracting.

     The audio track was perfectly adequate for the film, reflecting the original release.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
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Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Cast and Crew Interviews

     Lead Actress – Kaji Meiko (15:34): Meiko is interviewed about what the film means to her, working with director Fujita Toshiya, the difficulty of doing action scenes while wearing a kimono, singing the theme song and preparing for the role. She is an engaging and interesting speaker and not above criticising her younger self and her performance in the film. The interview also includes some on set black and white photographs and a little film footage. The interview is in Japanese with yellow subtitles.

     Writer – Koike Kazuo (11:14): Koike sits at a desk and answers questions that appear as text on the screen. He speaks about the plot and having a woman as a main character. His comments are about the original manga and his co-writer Kamimura Kazuo, who did the drawings. He does however mention lead actress Kaji Meiko and writing the film’s theme song. There is also some film footage. The interview is in Japanese with yellow subtitles; there is a noticeable hum in the audio.

Lady Snowblood Trailers

     Lady Snowblood (2:44) and Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance (2:22).

Promotional Trailers

     Trailers: Eastern Eye Promo Reel (2:21), Sonatine (0:53), Zatoichi: The Festival of Fire (2:16), Ong Bak (1:49), Lone Wolf and Cub (2:20), Throne of Blood (3:44), Azumi (1:19), Lady Death (1:48), Saiyuki (1:37) and Samurai Champloo (0:35).

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     Releases of Lady Snowblood have been around a while. The current Region 1 US release contains no extras, the Region 2 UK stand-alone version has some minor extras, mostly text notes, but not the interviews on our Region 4 release.

     Lady Snowblood 1 & 2 as a DVD set is available in the US and UK without extras. There is a UK Blu-ray / DVD; the interview on the disc is not the one we have but is with Jasper Sharp, an expert on Japanese cinema, that runs just over 11 minutes.

     Where DVD is concerned our two disc Region 4 release of Lady Snowblood and Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance is fine, not to mention good value.

Summary

     Lady Snowblood from 1973 is perhaps best known as a direct influence on Tarantino’s Kill Bill, but in its own right it is a magnificent film that remains as innovative and exhilarating as ever.

     The video is very good, the audio fine, the extras are interesting.

     Lady Snowblood and Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance are released in a two DVD package by Madman with a RRP of $19.95. This is the same package that was released previously but if you have any interest in Asian action cinema and don’t have Lady Snowblood, this is a chance to give this cult classic a look.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Monday, July 22, 2013
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S580, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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