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July 16, 2005

Lady Snowblood

Shurayukihime
Toshiya Fujita - 1973
AnimEigo Region 1 DVD

A few days ago my significant other decided I should read some magazines she had bought in order to get a bit more acquainted with current culture. In the July 2005 issue of Wired, the magazine has several articles devoted to remixes and what they call cut and paste culture. One of the articles was on the movies that Quentin Tarantino used as basis for for his own films. I was already familiar with City on Fire as the inspiration for Reservoir Dogs. What was news for me was learning about Kill Bill's origins in Lady Snowblood. By coincidence, Lady Snowblood was way up on my Netflix queue, and I had the opportunity to view it, followed by Kill Bill Volume 1 on cable.

Lady Snowblood is similar to yakuza films of its time with its scenes of lopped off body parts and geysers of blood, and carefully composed wide screen and color imagery. One of the elements that makes this film unique is that it clearly refers to its manga origins by breaking from live action to black and white graphic drawings. Director Fujita also plays with color with scenes of red snow, as well as using wide screen composition in unusual angles as a way of referring to the manga source material.

The title character is a female assassin with the goal of killing the four people who raped her mother and her mother's husband. As is found in many genre films, the story is not particularly original, but the way the story is told makes it interesting. In this case it is Fujita's use of color, composition and editing that drive the film to its satisfying conclusion. Both Fujita and Tarantino break up their films with titled chapters. One could say Tarantino double dipped from Fujita, using the basic narrative of Lady Snowblood for both the character of The Bride, the avenging female assassin, and for the back story of O-Ren, the girl who kills her parents' murderer. Both films have sword fights in the snow. Tarantino also used the Lady Snowblood theme song at the conclusion of Kill Bill Volume 1.

I have yet to see other DVDs from AnimEigo. If Lady Snowblood is any indication, this is a company that has gone beyond other companies in presenting Japanese genre films. Not only are the subtitles colored to make for easier reading, but the subtitles change colors in conversation so that one characters lines will be green while the response will be red (no pun intended). Sur-titles will appear on the screen to briefly explain cultural or historical references. The DVD also includes a chronology of general Japanese history as well as notes refering to how Lady Snowblood relates to the history of Meiji era Japan.

The only other film by Fujita currently available on DVD is the inevitable sequel to Lady Snowblood. Still, based on the first film I would take the time to see the second.

While there has yet to be a definitive annotated Kill Bill, those interested in checking out Tarantino's inspirations should check out www.geocities.com/lost-highway.geo/.

Posted by peter at July 16, 2005 12:12 AM