Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance

Title: Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance
Rating: 3/5
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Starring: Meiko Kaji, Juzo Itami, Kazuko Koshiyuki
Director: Toshiya Fujita
Language: Japanese

The second part in this series shows a remarkable change in style; expecting more of the same powerful action-filled swordplay and another tale of vengeance, instead the result delivered on neither of these. Whilst assuredly succeeding in not falling into the ‘sequel trap,’ trying to deliver on one notch more than what came before it, the result feels different enough to alienate the viewer who may feel they have been misled. There is very little action to be found here, and not enough violence to satisfy my gore-hound cravings for even its own duration. Instead it strives to be more creative, more intelligent and thought provoking than ever before, but in doing so have lost sight of what made the first so enjoyable.

Following from the first, several years have passed and Lady Snowblood (Kaji) is still at large. Relentlessly hunted for mass murder by the police, she survives as a fugitive on the run, constantly under attack until the day she relinquishes her sword, giving herself up to the police. Sentenced to death by hanging, before she can reach her destination she is sprung by the secret police, rescued in order to infiltrate an anarchist (Itami) to retrieve a letter that could expose them for who they are. Quickly befriending the anarchist, she betrays the corrupt government officials to work as protector, helping the truth to emerge.

Unexpectedly, the main issue presented here comes from Kaji’s performance. With four previous superb performances, this is her showing she isn’t flawless herself (though admittedly the plot left a lot to be desired). The acting feels wooden; there’s no emotional depth, she has no stake in the political proceedings and thus feels rather like a tool to be manipulated by others, a bowling ball swept up by the political turmoil to be flung at the pinheaded enemies in an attempt to knock them all down. Whereas before we saw her inner turmoil at her actions, her strength of will more than of the sword, even the ‘vengeance’ aspect disappears. This inability to demonstrate the character capable of independent thought is a fundamental issue that detracts from the good done in the first part.

Taking a backseat in her own film gives way to the two co-leads in Itami’s revolutionary, vying for change, and his disillusioned brother played by Koshiyuki. Two very different characters with different intentions and goals, this aspect could easily have been exploited in more detail to demonstrate their relationship in more than simple chunks of cliché dialogue, both having their moments to shine in the proceedings. The villain in this tale feels rather cheap and generic with little thought behind his motivations, and despite the initial source of mystery, this soon clears up leaving an instantly forgettable two-dimensional character.

The soundtrack at times felt a little out of place in tempo, but rarely detracted from the end result, and the choreography where it did occur felt less impressive. Many of the stunts looking perhaps a little clumsy; far from the image of elegance and grace she used to wield in her ability to fight, which whilst perhaps understandable to an extent (tired of being hunted, getting lazy and over-confident) was disappointing to watch, and at times down right awful (watching an extra clutch his face in pain after being stabbed in the stomach for example). Furthermore, much of the fights have a notable absence of arterial spurts, blood gushes and flying limbs. In fact, there wasn’t enough violence present to provide more than a morsel of a snack to the gore-hound in me. Whilst not a terrible film, this was certainly a disappointment to an otherwise successful stint on this period of film history, and those looking for a more conventional swordplay film may do well to skip this one.


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