For my second entry into Paragraph Film Reviews’ Japan-O-Rama series I am looking at Toshiya Fujita’s 2003 movie The Princess Blade, original Japanese title Shura Yukihime or 修羅雪姫.
The Princess Blade (2003), directed by: Shinsuke Sato and loosely based on the manga comic Lady Snowblood by Kazuo Koike (already filed as Lady Snow blood (1973) directed by Toshiya Fujita). Set in dystopian near future Japan once more by a monarchy. Yuki (Yumiko Shaku), The Princess Blade of the title is the last surviving royal of the House of Takemikazuchi. Living in isolation from the world, they are led by Byakurai (Kyûsaku Shimada) and use their skills developed as Mikado guards to become the most deadly assassins for hire. They are hired by the government to stop a group of oppressed rebels who plan to overthrow them. When Yuki discovers that Byakurai killed her mother, and her own life is now in danger she flees and encounters Takashi (Hideaki Itô) part of a rebel movement. This gives her an interesting glimpse of the idea of a normal life and prospective on her former life as well as an opportunity for revenge.
The story is scraped back to the bare bones producing a trim 93 minute movie. The only problem with this is the lack of depth and investment in the characters. This is overcome bay the casting of a charismatic and alluring leading lady who brings both strength and vulnerability to the role. The revenge story is a mainstay of the genre as is the concepts that it explores such as the distraction she finds along the way as well as the pitfalls of revenge. But like the swordfights we see onscreen, revenge is only the surface of the movie the real story exists within the subtext. The crux of the story is about power; what people will do to gain power and how they abuse it when they get it. We see this in Yuki, Byakurai, the rebels and the government.
The fight choreography comes curtsy of Chinese actor/director/stunt director Donnie Yen. Yen’s contribution is a prime example of the Chinese influence of Japanese action cinema with more ostentatious and extravagant fights and swordfights coupled with traditional blood and violence Japanese samurai movies. It is this juxtaposition of old and new ideas that makes the film such an interesting watch. The same can be said of the look of the film with the swordfights of a samurai movie between people wearing modern clothing. Large parts of the movie take place away from modern technology then we see guns and cars. The look of the film subtly spectacular. Predating Casshern (2004) and the green screen revolution that it hailed the locations are real world and almost familiar looking. The movies colour pallet is limited and subdued with a dull blue/grey tinge at times, the brighter scenes have a under bleached look. All this helps emphasize the flashes of colour (often red blood) when we seen them. Along with movies like Ryûhei Kitamura’s Versus (2000) they almost make their own subgenre that western directors have never been able to recapture.
The film does lose its way from time to time particularly towards the end, but this can be forgiven for all the good we get along the way. The casting is superb throughout as are their performances particularly Yumiko Shaku whose expressive face say so much more than her words, possibly more than the script demanded. The action is good and will keep fans of the genre satisfied but that is kind of where it ends, the film offers nothing particularly new or original, or even exceptional that could attract a new audience to the genre.