Friday, May 15, 2009

REVIEW: Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance

修羅雪姫 怨み恋歌 (Shura-yuki-hime: Urami Renga)

Released: 1974

Toshiya Fujita

Meiko Kaji
Yoshio Harada
Juzo Itami
Kazuko Yoshiyuki

Shin Kishida

Running time: 89 min.

Reviewed by Marc Saint-Cyr

Made one year after the first "Lady Snowblood" film, this sequel features the return of actress Meiko Kaji and director Toshiya Fujita, making it no surprise that it is very much of the same spirit as its predecessor. "Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance" chronicles the continuing adventures of its famed heroine in predictable but reliable pulp serial fashion: by bringing back many of the original’s winning elements and presenting them through a new yet familiar storyline. The film catches up to Kaji’s Yuki a few years after her initial quest for revenge ended. In keeping with the first film’s historical situation, Yuki is still an embodiment of a more traditional time who finds herself even more at odds with the new, Meiji-era Japan of capitalism and modernity (and in this film, the fresh victor of the Russo-Japanese war) than ever before. She is captured by the police and sentenced to death for her crimes before being rescued by Kikui, a devious government agent who sends her to obtain an important document from an anarchist leader named Ransui. However, the anarchist threat turns out to be a fabrication constructed by the government to justify their unjust, oppressive rule, leading Yuki to switch sides and confront Kikui.

As the above synopsis illustrates, the central subject of the plot is not revenge, as one would originally expect, but politics. "Love Song" maintains the high level of attention to history seen in the first film, taking advantage of the rich story material provided by the period to create a well written, well thought-out Lady Snowblood tale. Yet amid the admirably built plotline, the film remains true to its exploitation roots and gives plenty of what the audience came for. Gore is offered up through plenty of creative methods and topped off with gallons of red paint that doesn’t look too much like real blood but turns up bright and vibrant onscreen – which was most likely the filmmakers’ main objective anyways.

Smoothly reprising her classic role, Meiko Kaji is easily one of the film’s key delights. She is constantly fascinating to watch, whether she is calmly disposing of several enemies at once (viewers are treated to not one, but two "Oldboy"-esque sequences in which Yuki hacks through a small army in a single shot) or regarding her prey with her unforgettable fierce glare. The performance she gives isn’t of the virtuoso, Oscar-snatching variety, but instead of the kind that happens when a part fits an actor like a glove. There’s no denying that she is to Yuki as Toshirô Mifune is to his own badass warrior Sanjuro. She owns her character so completely and thoroughly that it would be simply impossible to imagine anyone else in the same part.

The best phrase to compare "Love Song" with the first "Lady Snowblood" would probably be “more of the same.” For those who can’t get enough of Kaji’s iconic character or her stealthy, swordplay-laden, artery-severing adventures, this is right up your alley and will certainly deliver the goods. But for those looking for a radically different approach or style to these blood-spattered antics, I wouldn’t set my expectations too high if I were you. Often, as in this case, it’s best to enjoy a good thing simply for what it is.

Read more by Marc Saint-Cyr at his blog.

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