With Lady Snowblood: Blizzard of the Netherrealm (1973), an adaptation of Kazuo Koike’s popular manga Lady Snowblood (1972 – 1973), Toshiya Fujita created a beautiful, strong demonic woman who turns killing people, with her sharp sword, into an elegant art. Fujita’s sequel about this deadly beauty is, contrary to first narrative, not based on Kazuo Koike’s manga. Nevertheless, Norio Osada and Kiyohide Ohara’s narrative took the subtle leftist commentary of the original and put it on the forefront in Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance (1974).
One day, after successfully exacting revenge on the right-wing arms dealer Gishirô Tsukamoto, Yuki Kashima or Shurayuki (Meiko Kaji), now a wanted murderer, is surrounded by the police. She succeeds to escape, but, after a few encounters, she suddenly surrenders and lets herself be captured. Shurayuki is sentenced to death, but on the day of her execution she is suddenly rescued by the mysterious Seishiro Kikui (Shin Kishida), head of Secret Police.
Seishiro orders Shurayuki to become a maid for Ransui Tokunaga (Juzo Itami), an anarchist deemed dangerous to the stability of the government, and to retrieve a critical letter. But it does not take long for Tokunaga to discover that his new maid is the infamous Shurayuki and that she is sent to ensure his downfall.
Shurayuki, after exacting revenge on those who destroyed her family, has no purpose in life anymore. As her revenge was her lifegoal, her destiny so to speak, the fulfillment of said destiny has turned her into an empty subject. When she, after escaping police for so long, throws away her sword, she – one cannot read this act as anything else – given up her life.
The reason why Shurayuki accepts Seishiro Kikui’s proposal is, in our view, because she gave up her life, because her live is devoid of any reason to life or has no direction. Yet, her acceptance also communicates a certain will to keep on living, a will to postpone her death despite the emptiness that marks her. Only due to her encounter with Ransui Tokunaga and the confrontation with the ravage by power-hungry bureaucrats, Shurayuki finds a new purpose in her life and slowly allows herself to wield the sword once again.
Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance is set between 1905-1906, after the first Japanese-Russo war, the time when Japan started to realize itself as a world-power. Yet, as was the case in Lady Snowblood: Blizzard of the Netherrealm, Fujita’s sequel sensible shows the spectator the ongoing tension between modernity and tradition. This tension is not only visually noticeable, like in the contrast between kimono’s and the western clothing of policemen and other officials, the contrast between western interiors/exteriors and more traditional interiors/exteriors, the contrast within interiors as such, and so on, but also in the structure of the narrative as such (Narra-note 1). The narrative depicts a tension between right-wing and left-wing politics, between the rich and the poor, as well as a tension between corrupted officials of the establishment who want to maintain and enrich themselves via the capitalistic and imperialistic machine of human exploitation and those who want to change society for the better.
The compositional style of Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance is, despite a change in cinematographer, very similar to the dynamic composition of Lady Snowblood: Blizzard of the Netherrealm. Again, one of the most pleasing elements of the composition is the visually pleasing way in which the camera drifts with a raw fluidity through the narrative space. This kind of crude cinematographical movement, generally tracking Yuki Kashima as she elegantly inflicts violence as she walks, heightens not only the spectator’s visual pleasure but also gives the overall composition its stylish flair (Cine-note 1). Action-sequences relying less on tracking movement for their composition are equally visually pleasing, due to Fujita’s continued attention to the elegance of Kashima’s (fighting) presence within the frame.
Within the visual composition, red is, due to abundance of blood-spattering, again a very prominent colour. But this time, due to the lack of colour-play between white and red, the red is the only visual reference to the Shura (bloodbath) part of Shurayuki’s name.
The main reason why Fujita’s narrative is so enjoyable is due to Meiko Kaji’s presence and performance. What we wrote in our review of Lady Snowblood: Blizzard of the Netherrealm is equally true here: her mesmerizing presence – her irresistible expressive eyes – haunts every image of the narrative. The way she brings the feral calmness and cool determination of Shurayuki, ever clad in a stylish kimono, is downright memorable.
Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance is a worthy sequel that is, contrary to what the title might imply, not about vengeance as such. More than anything, Lady Snowblood is about re-finding one’s coordinates in life, finding a new purpose for yielding one’s weapon. Do we use violence to maintain and enrich ourselves or do we use violence to change society for the better? While Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance could have used more fighting-sequences, the various exciting and elegant fighting sequences at the beginning and the end of the narrative, while a tad short, do not disappoint. Highly recommended.
Narra-note 1: The contrast between western elements and traditional elements is most evident in Ransui Tokunaga’s house.
Cine-note 1: Other elements that help the stylish flair of the composition include the effective use of more extravagant camera perspectives and the pleasing employment of geometry for compositional purposes.
Another cinematographical element that is quite often used is the zoom-in. zoom-outs, for that matter, are applied but not often.