Even Kill Bill is a better adaptation of Lady Snowblood than this.
“I’m Azora’s daughter, Princess Yuki of the Takemikazuchi. In the name of my mother, I claim your life!”
I’ve mentioned before that blockbusters the late 90s to early 2000s were a fabulous petri dish of bland sets, confusing cinematography and a damn near non-existent colour scheme. Action films suffered the most from this bleak look, where everything had to look edgy and futuristic, but also grim and dirty. The result was some Final Fantasy VII-looking Dieselpunk nightmarescape of ruined buildings and storage containers. Jet Li’s The One, and Ecks Vs Sever come immediately to mind, but there are tonnes of examples.
Princess Blade, a 2001 movie by the director of the fascinatingly-titled Library Wars: The Last Mission is a fine example of this. It stars Yumiko Shaku as Yuki, the last surviving royal of the House of Takemikazuchi. The Takemikazuchi used to be the royal guard, but have since turned into assassins for hire. Yuki is set to become the leader of the gang once she turned 20, but after she meets the mysterious old Kuka (Yoichi Numata) in the forest, he tells her the truth. Her mother was murdered by the current leader of the Takemikazuchi, Byakurai (Kyusaku Shimada). Outraged, she decides to escape to plot her revenge against them.
She steals a ride from a man, Takashi (Hideaki Ito) who turns out to be a member – or maybe the leader, it’s not entirely clear – of a group of rebels who plan to overthrow the government. He lives alone with his sister, who suffers from trauma, and is sometimes visited by his friend and fellow rebel Kidokoro (Shiro Sano). At first neither Takashi nor Yuki get along well, which suggests the inevitable romance as they begin to help each other out, and Yuki searches for her vengeance.
Firstly, the good stuff. Hideaki Ito and Yumiko Shaku, as well as the rest of the cast, do a lot of good here. They put a lot of effort into weak dialogue and confusing character motivations, and should be commended for it. The movie suffers from having a load of heavy-handed sentimental scenes but there is enough talent in front of the camera to make it seem at least a bit engaging.
However, the story is so weird and weak that the acting can only do so much to keep it afloat. It’s set in the future (500 years from now, apparently), and Japan is under a monarchy again. So it’s oppression. They don’t explain much, and much of the film’s weaknesses stem from the fact that it just doesn’t understand its own universe. We’re treated to very little information about how the country currently works. I’m not asking for a trilogy long treatise on the political systems of the galaxy, like in the Star Wars prequels, but just an idea of the world they live in. It raises so many questions, but not in a good way, and certainly has no interest in answering them.
The events of the movie take place within a few miles from one another, and in roughly three locations, each easily colour-coded for your convenience. There’s a forest, an underground base and a house that’s also a gas station. This is the extent of the Princess Blade world. This could all be happening in some backwater town in the present day and it would make as much sense.
The action suffers from the editor’s inability to focus on one shot for more than a second, but is otherwise pretty solid stuff. Donnie Yen is the action choreographer, so the fights are of decent quality. If they weren’t so few and far between they would be the most enjoyable part of the movie. The stakes are sometimes a bit muddled, and nothing really feels important (even though they really emphasise how important everything is), but you’re willing to forgive that if it means a bit of excitement in the otherwise slow-paced and meandering picture.
This is supposedly an adaptation of the Lady Snowblood manga by Kazuo Koike and Kazuo Kamimura, but frankly it’s loose at best and doesn’t do the films any favours. It’s best viewed as an individual entity. I don’t want to rag on this film too much, and on its own, Princess Blade isn’t terrible, not really. It’s just a product of a time when films were especially ugly, and that certainly does it no favours. Some gorgeous cinematography and colour work would have done wonders for this.
Verdict: Highly forgettable and pretty dull throughout, Princess Blade isn’t the worst, but that doesn’t mean it’s good
Princess Blade (2001)
Also known as: 修羅雪姫 (Shurayuki-hime) “fighting snow princess”
Director: Shinsuke Sato
Writer: Kei Kunii, Shinsuke Sato
Yumiko Shaku – Yuki
Hideaki Ito – Takashi
Shiro Sano – Kidokoro
Yoichi Numata – Kuka
Kyusaku Shimada – Byakurai
Yoko Chosokabe – Soma
Yoko Maki – Aya
Naomasa Musaka – Kiri
Yutaka Matsushige – Anka
Shintaro Sonooka – Chain Wielder
Takashi Tsukamoto – Takashi’s Friend