(director: Toshira Fujita; screenwriters: Norio Osada/story by Kazuo Uemura & Kazuo Kolke/based on a comic book by Kazuo Kulke; cinematographer: Masaki Tamura; editor: Osamu Inoue ; music: Masaaki Hirao; cast: Meiko Kaji (Yuki), Noboru Nakaya (Banzo), Sanae Nakahara (Okono), Toshio Kurosawa (Ryûrei Ashio), Masaaki Daimon (Gô Kashima), Ko Nishimura (Priest Dôkai), Miyoko Akaza (Sayo Kashima), Shinichi Uchida (Shiro Kashima), Eiji Okada (Gishirô Tsukamoto); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Kikumaru Okuda; Criterion Collection; 1973-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)

“A violent cult film that maintains in its undercurrent a sly humor and a feeling that this is a special revenge film.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Toshira Fujita(“Nora-neko rokku: Wairudo janbo“/”Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance“) forcefully directs this arty martial arts obscure female pulp revenge film, set in Japan’s 19th century. The popular manga author Kazuo Koiki‘scomic book was adapted to the screen by writer Norio Osada from the story by Kazuo Uemura and Kazuo Kolke. Yuki (Meiko Kaji) is born in 1894 to a family destroyed in 1893 by swindlers and bandits after newly arriving in the rural Koichi Village. The criminals killed the schoolteacher husband (Shinichi Uchida) and their young son and also kidnapped the wife, Yuki’s mom (MiyokoAkaza), and raped her. Mom survives only to be falsely imprisoned as a spy before dying at childbirth. On her deathbed she vows that her daughter will get revenge on those who destroyed her family. The baby is told by mom that she’s cursed as an asura demon to live her life carrying out the vendetta. Yuki’s childhood is spent preparing for life work with a sadistic ex-convict priest (Ko Nishimura), who teaches her sword’s play, martial arts and how to live a hardened life. When she’s twenty, she walks the snowy street of the Koichi Village in a beautiful kimono with a parasol, that has a sword hidden in it. Using the name of Lady Snowblood, the assassin slays the thuggish bodyguards and the thug in the carriage. The blood spurts out of the vics as if it were from an opened can of tomato juice. The film is told in chapters and by flashback, as the grim but delicate assassin relentlessly goes after the four villains she is sworn to get revenge on. A voiceover is provided by a crusading manga journalist, Ryûrei Ashio (Toshio Kurosawa, the son of the great director), who speaks out against government corruption and grounds the film in detail, back story and becomes its moral compass. It has the look and feel of one of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill films, but stands on its own as a violent cult film that maintains in its undercurrent a sly humor and a feeling that this is a special revenge film.