Spelunking through the films that have inspired Quentin Tarantino is no easy task, with gallons of Z-grade dross surrounding the few genuine exploitation gems. And 1973’s Lady Snowblood, thankfully, falls firmly in the latter category. Stylized to the nth degree, it somehow manages to be both ridiculously over the top and serenely beautiful, often in the very same shot.
Based on a manga series from the creator of the landmark Lone Wolf and Cub, director Toshiya Fujita’s chronologically jumbled narrative follows a beautiful prison-born orphan (Meiko Kaji) bent on revenge for the death of her mother. After receiving training in the deadly arts from a beetle-browed priest, she gets busy, to quote the awesome theme song, “embracing the darkness with her umbrella sword.” Boy, does she ever.
The Kill Bill touchstones run fast and hot, ranging from the chewily baroque chapter headings, the expertly applied manipulation of the zoom lens, and, most spectacularly, the gouts of bright tempera blood that appear to have been applied via pressure washer. (The hilariously excessive finishing move on one cowardly villain, in particular, may have you trying to jab a rewind button in the theater.) Accomplished and entertaining as Tarantino’s homage is in its own right, though, it still falls slightly in the shadow of its operatically splattery inspiration.
Boasting a newly remastered print, Fujita’s masterwork manages to ping the slightly disreputable pleasure center of the brain in ways that none of its legions of followers—including its equally gorgeous yet narratively muddled sequel, also playing this week at the Grand Illusion--have ever quite matched. Long may she reign.