Lady Snowblood and its horrible sequel.
Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance
This is one of the classics of Japanese cinema, as recognizable as Ran, The Seven Samurai, Akira, or In The Realm of the Senses. It is based on a manga by the same guy that wrote Lone Wolf & Cub (aka Shogun Assassin), but where the Lone Wolf & Cub films seek conflict as their central component, Lady Snowblood seeks quietude and stillness, even within the act of vengeance. The direction by Toshiya Fujita is narcotic, drifting from one visual element to the next. The violence within it comes quickly, from the stillness that is the 'woman of the netherworld' Yuki. Still drifting snow and people walking through it, swordflash, death. This is even echoed in the flashback scenes that describe Yuki's inception and the fate of her family. The storyline hops back and forth, Yuki's mother giving birth to her in a prison, the slaughter of one of Yuki's targets, training of Yuki, flushing out of Yuki's targets, the fate of Yuki's mother and how she ended up in prison, but integral to these vignettes, is death coming quickly from hidden sources. Yuki's blade hidden in a parasol, Yuki's mother's concealed blade killing her rapist, Yuki's birth resulting in the death of her mother, ruffians hidden in the outskirts of a town bringing death to Yuki's family, a hidden target behind a one-way mirror bringing death to Yuki's paramour. The structured form of the manga does a lot to keep the plot of this film driven, it could easily be lost in the twists and turns that the screenplay negotiates through dreamish landscapes of Meiji-era Japan, although the film has variations from the manga, the expectations of its readers are considered while providing enough plot devices to keep the film intriguing even to someone familiar with the manga. All in all, a refreshing bit of cinema candy to while away a few evenings.
Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance
Ass. This film is ass. It isn't assbad, it isn't truly horrible, but man, oof, compared to its predecessor, like if Star Wars became Spaceballs but wasn't funny. The plot is all over the map. Arrest drama, infiltration, anarcho-sensei-political-socialistica, gully dwarves, plague drama, throw it all at the wall and most of it doesn't stick but man is it up there on the screen anyhoo. Still, it is watchable, in a train wreck sort of way. Think Godzilla movie. You know how when Godzilla isn't on the screen stomping around Godzilla movies are kind of stupid. Some kid and his kinda crazy scientist uncle and his g/f and an old scientist and the army and they're all trying to kill, persuade, defend, or give blowjobs to Godzilla maybe with like a bomb planted somewhere and the army. That's this movie, when Lady Snowblood is on the screen and killing something, poetry in motion, makes up for all the ass we've suffered in the last 15-30 minutes, stick a knife in that fucker's OTHER eye! Yay! Stomp Mothra and King Ghidorah! Woohoo! That's what I'm talkin' about!
But then, the writers happen, and they're like hmm... well... we need social commentary and something bad about the Russians so we can get some U.S. dollars, I KNOW! PLAGUE INJECTIONS! The actors? Alright, Meiko Kaji suffers gamely through this film, and the slight light source tilt that exposes most of the characters as cardboard stereotypes that wasn't apparent in the tighter scripted and more story-driven and less story-battered Lady Snowblood isn't the fault of the actors and I think they'd have done just as well as in the original film given the same quality of writing. The directing/cinematography is pretty decent too. Nope this film flops because of the writers, they are the ones who need to bare their swords and make their peace with God. Still, worth watching if you know its gunna be bad. It is in that area of silly-bad that is watchable, not that horrible crush-my-head-in-a-vice-so-i-don't-have-to-see-any-more badness that I'd tell you to avoid like power-mad social climbers with buri-buri sticks and hypodermic needles filled with plague germs. I want some of whatever the writers were smoking. Enough to make this film good. I don't know that there is that much though, in the world.