Director Toshiya Fujita’s 1973 revenge thriller, Lady Snowblood, which turns 50 this year, has the distinction of being one of the few Japanese exploitation movies archived in the Criterion Collection. Set at the start of the Meiji era, when Japan first began opening itself to the West, the film features Meiko Kaji as the beautiful killer Yuki—named for the snow falling outside the prison where she was born—who seeks vengeance for the rape of her mother and the death of her family. Nicknamed Lady Snowblood (a twist on the Japanese name for Snow White), she whirls across the screen in operatic fight sequences that send blood splashing across silk and snow. Anyone who has seen Kill Bill will notice Lady Snowblood’s influence on Quentin Tarantino. But nothing beats the original ice queen, whose slicing and dicing offer commentary on Japan’s postwar rehabilitation.
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