Lady Snowblood (UK - BD RB)
Chris takes a look at this dual slice of Japanese exploitation from the 1970s
From the original manga by Kazuo Koike (Lone Wolf and Cub) and Kazuo Kamimura and the main inspiration for Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, Lady Snowblood is a blood spattered Samurai masterpiece from the golden age of Japanese cult cinema!
Meiko Kaji ( Female Prisoner Scorpion/ Blind Woman’s Curse) is Yuki, a women raised from birth for one terrible, blood splattered purpose... To murder those who raped her mother and left her to rot in a stinking women’s prison, where she died in childbirth. Trained in deadly fighting arts and fatal sword play, Lady Snowblood is cursed to wander the lands in pursuit of her single purpose. She is a demon of vengeance, only sated by the crimson blood of those who stole her mother from her.
Then, in the exciting sequel - Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance - Yuki is caught up in the corrupt and murderous world of politics as she is co-opted into spying by the head of the secret police against anarchists and enemies of the status quo. Expect more outrageous revenge and fountains of blood. (Taken from the PR.)
I've long been aware of the existence of these films, but until this Blu-ray landed on the doormat I had never gotten around to watching them. I wouldn't say I'm an aficionado of exploitation films of any type, much less this specific sub-genre, but I really enjoyed Lady Snowblood (and to a lesser extent, its sequel). I had heard that director Quentin Taratino drew on these films for inspiration when creating Kill Bill, but it's only after watching them that I realise just how much he used. QT lifted specific shots and sequences, the visual style, non-linear narrative, characters, music and more from these features.
While the big-budget American films may have received all of the attention the originals have an authenticity that's lacking in Tarantino's movies. Somehow these simple tales of vengeance feel more personal than the Bride's cross-continental rampage. It doesn't hurt matters that lead Meiko Kaji is rather easy on the eye (okay, she's stunning), but she's also a competent actress who delivers great performances. Both films also feature some beautiful imagery, with the Japanese landscape serving as a wonderful backdrop for the action.
This dual-format release contains one Blu-ray Disc and two DVDs (although we only received the BD for review purposes). Both films are included on a single BD50 disc, but given their relatively short run-times it doesn't have a negative bearing on video quality. The standard definition versions get a disc each to themselves.
Arrow brings both features to Blu-ray at their theatrical ratio of 2.35:1 (1080/24p AVC). The films exhibit a distinctive seventies look, with soft, almost hazy photography that features fine grain, natural palettes and relatively pleasing levels of detail. Not having seen them before I can't tell you how accurate these presentations are, but there are numerous issues that appear to be inherent to the source - frequent camera wobble and out of focus shots are commonplace here - but to their credit Arrow has delivered transfers that are surprisingly free from film artefacts. I did spot at least one vertical line and a few specks here and there, but on the whole the films are very clean. I can't rule out the use of DNR, but if it has been applied it's been done so fairly judiciously and neither feature looks waxy or artificial. Indeed, the biggest problem seems to be what is best described as incorrect RGB values, particularly for the first film. Black levels are just way too high, which serves to wash the picture out (it reminded me of the old DVD release of Reservoir Dogs). The issue is present for the entire runtime of both movies, but as previously mentioned it's more apparent during the original film than the sequel. This has the knock-on effect of rendering the palettes rather dull and lifeless, particularly in the darker scenes.
While I understand the difficulties in bringing films of this age and budget to Blu-ray I have to be honest when reviewing. Sure the good outweighs the bad, but even taking this into account I still found the black level issue genuinely distracting. It might seem like I'm being too harsh, but that's the truth as I see it. You're still getting what are almost certainly the best looking versions of the films available, it's just that they're not perfect.
Both films are presented in Mono by way of LPCM 2.0 tracks. As you'd expect from relatively low budget Japanese films of the era, the audio is best described as 'authentic', which is to say perfectly intelligible but highly unlikely to test your home cinema set-up. Dynamic range is limited, but the various effects - while sounding ludicrously unrealistic by modern standards - come through loud and clear and have a surprising amount of weight to them courtesy of some decent low-end. Obviously there are no discrete effects and fidelity is lacking, but there's something about watching a film from this era in plain old mono that gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling. The movies also feature some pretty haunting music, including the fantastic Shura no Hana sung buy Meiko Kaji herself (as used by Quentin Tarantino in Kill Bill), as well as more contemporary seventies pieces. All things considered I was perfectly happy with the audio, but I had realistic expectations going into both films.
Both films are accompanied by optional English subtitles that offer what assume to be a reasonably accurate translation of the original dialogue (although I'm sure a few colloquialisms slipped in there).
The disc includes fewer extras than I'm used to on Arrow releases, which came as something of a surprise. Still, what little there is offers some enjoyment. Here's the break-down:
- Slicing Through the Snow: This is a short but interesting interview with Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp, in which he talks about Lady Snowblood and contextualises its place in Japanese film history
- Original Theatrical Trailers: Trailers for both films are included in high-definition
- Collector’s Booklet 'The Crimson Kimono' by Critic and Author Tom Mes, Illustrated with Original Stills: Unfortunately we didn't get this with our check disc so I can't comment on it
A beautiful woman roaming the land dispensing her own unique brand of justice (which usually results in fountains of fake blood spraying all over the place), what's not to love? The films evoked childhood memories of watching dubbed Asian movies at home, and I really enjoyed the warm, nostalgic feelings engendered by both pictures. The Blu-ray presentations are good, if not great, but when you consider both the age and circumstances under which they were made it does give a greater appreciation of the work that's gone into bringing them to a home video format in high-definition. If only the black levels were more accurate... Still, the films' hardcore fans will almost certainly be over the moon with this release. I'd just like to mention that the 'Movie' score is a combination of both films, as I was fonder of the original picture than its sequel.
* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance
Top: Blu-ray; Middle: DVD; Bottom: Blu-ray (adjusted RGB levels)
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 24th September 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: LPCM 2.0 Mono Japanese
Extras: Interview with Jasper Sharp, Trailers, Booklet
Easter Egg: No
Director: Toshiya Fujita
Cast: Meiko Kaji, Toshio Kurosawa, Masaaki Daimon
Length: 186 minutes
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