Friday, 4 August 2017

Review #1,229: 'Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance' (1974)

Based on the manga comic by Kazuo Koike, 1973's Lady Snowblood is a simplistic rape-revenge thriller, pitting one woman with a mastery of swordsmanship against a hoard of faceless and disposable foes standing in her way. Opening with snow falling on darkness, Toshiya Fujita's film is also incredibly beautiful, offering a variety of strikingly colourful images, more often than not spattered with blood red. Stills from the movie could be framed and hung on your wall, but the main joy to be had is with its narrative simplicity and thrilling swordplay. The sight of Meiko Kaji slicing down one baddie after the next combined with her thirst for revenge propelled Lady Snowblood to exploitation royalty.

The sequel came the very next year, and like most successes in which the hero achieves their goal and nicely wraps up the story, the only option going forward is to broaden the scope and give the protagonist a new mission. This approach is rarely successful, and Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance struggles to recapture the magic of its predecessor. With Snowblood a wanted woman, she is mercilessly pursued by the police until she eventually throws down her sword to prevent further bloodshed. Sentence to death, she is saved from the noose by Seishiro Kikui (Shin Kishida), the head of the Secret Police, and given the task of infiltrating anarchist Ransui (Juzo Itami) to locate a document that will convince the people to rise up against the government. When her allegiances change, the deadly assassin finds herself on the run again, and soon out for further revenge.

The fight choreography is once again startling, with buckets of blood spurting from the unlikeliest of places. If anything, it improves on the first and certainly delivers more of it, with an early beach massacre and a climactic battle on a row of steps being the standout set-pieces. It moves at a fast pace, and offers historical context in snippets of black-and-white news footage (although some, if not all, were made for the film) and narration. Yet this also means that we're hit with a rather convoluted plot involving many characters, each with their own personal turmoil and ambitions. This takes away the sense of personal fury of the first film, with Kaji given few lines and little to do other than fight when called upon. She does shine when given the chance however, and hardcore fans of the genre will no doubt lap the balletic carnage.

Directed by: Toshiya Fujita
Starring: Meiko Kaji, Jûzô Itami, Kazuko Yoshiyuki, Yoshio Harada, Shin Kishida
Country: Japan

Rating: ***

Tom Gillespie

Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance (1974) on IMDb

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