Back in 2003 when I fell in love with Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Volume One one thing I found out about the film was that Tarantino had based a lot of it on the 1973 revenge film Lady Snowblood from director Toshiya Fujita. Ever since then I had wanted to watch it just to see what it was all about and how it inspired one of my favorite Tarantino films. Flash forward five years and I have finally watched it, and loved every minute of it. I am telling you, if you are a fan of Kill Bill, especially Volume One, this is a film you have to watch.
As you will see throughout this article I have put together a few visual comparisons, some that are eerily similar, but there is more than just the visual style of the film and how it influenced some of the decisions Tarantino made in shooting the feature. Lady Snowblood is Kill Bill, the entire story is there, but Tarantino ripped it apart and put it back together in such a way that it became a huge homage to the previous film, but it also makes a film like Lady Snowblood, which is traditionally only seen by Japanese action film fans, more accessible for American audiences. I only hope my little article will encourage some of you to give it a peek on NetFlix and see it for yourself.
To begin with Lady Snowblood centers on Yuki, the daughter of a woman whose husband and son were murdered before she was raped and beaten by a group of four swindlers (pictured above). Yuki’s mother manages to kill one of her attackers, but is subsequently incarcerated for doing so. This all happens before Yuki is ever born. Her mother ends up dying shortly after giving birth to her in prison and is raised to become an assassin with revenge in her heart. The film follows her as she sets out to murder the three remaining villains that caused her mother’s suffering.
For those following the comparison to Kill Bill, Yuki is best described as both Uma Thurman’s character The Bride and Lucy Liu as O-Ren Ishii. The two Kill Bill characters would actually be a split personality of Yuki’s (at least this is how I saw it). O-Ren having killed her father and mother’s murderers in a sequence in Kill Bill told through anime and as you can see from the pic above a similar scene depicted Yuki’s mother killing her assailant in Lady Snowblood. Like Yuki, The Bride is setting out to kill the four people that ruined her life. In The Bride’s case they killed her family and she believes killed her baby, metaphorically it is a very similar plot thread even if it isn’t exactly the same.
What’s most amazing is how good Lady Snowblood is on its own, but equally how much it enhances the viewing of Kill Bill. Even if it was unintended by Tarantino you can now start to see an inner struggle between O-Ren and The Bride as you can look at them as kindred spirits when compared to Snowblood.
On top of that Kill Bill owes a major debt to Snowblood as it was the inspiration for the fight in the snow between O-Ren and The Bride following the battle in the House of Blue Leaves. That is a scene that will forever be one of my favorites purely for its visuals, which you can see from the pic above Quentin paid some specific attention to. To go along with that, the music that opens and closes Lady Snowblood serves as the music that plays as O-Ren dies in Kill Bill. The song is “The Flower of Carnage” by Meiko Kaji and it is on the Kill Bill: Volume One soundtrack. The best part about it is knowing Tarantino wasn’t attempting to hide the similarities, which he easily could considering not many American audience members will have seen this obscure, and fantastic, 1973 film.
Blood flows like crazy in Snowblood. Yes, the scene above is of Yuki slicing a body in half after it has already been hanged. Just as the lower portion falls blood begins to flow. The geysers of blood you see in Kill Bill were also undoubtedly spawned from Lady Snowblood which has plenty of bloody red gushers. The violent nature of Kill Bill is similar to Snowblood as well as the layout of the House of Blue Leaves including its floor and balcony design and the chaptered structure of Kill Bill follows the same path as Snowblood.
I am typically not out to check out titles like this unless on recommendation. I did recently suffer through Versus based on something I read, and I am entirely unsure why it is a cult classic. Sure, there is some cool stuff in there, but sheesh, gimme a break. For those unfamiliar with that title it was directed by Ryuhei Kitamura who recently helmed the Lionsgate release Midnight Meat Train. It is gory to be sure, but man is it cheap and seemingly strung out on acid.
Lady Snowblood doesn’t suffer any story problems, story is its strongsuit. Actually, had I not seen Kill Bill first I probably would say Snowblood is my favorite revenge film and that is not to discount this film at all. This is a film that should go down as an absolute classic. This is an all-time revenge thriller for the ages and I can’t imagine anyone that enjoys this genre not falling in love with this film. Give it a shot and see what you think. I really don’t think you will be disappointed. It is also available to buy at Amazon.
Below is a video I found on YouTube that does a little more comparing between Kill Bill and Lady Snowblood as well as a few other films.