Shurayukihime (修羅雪姫) – meaning “carnage snow princess” – is a pun on Shirayukihime “white snow princess”, usually referring to Snow White, and is translated for this classic film as “Princess Snowblood”. The original manga was penned by the author of Lone Wolf and Cub, and similarly combines brutal action (expressed here by 70s-style geysers of blood) with an interesting historical setting.
The story is straightforward revenge fare (it inspired Kill Bill) but contains some pretty good twists that are apparently not from the manga. There’s also a lot of colour about the changes coming over Japan with the beginning of the Meiji era: conscription riots, a rabble-rousing journalist, a European-style ball, and characters “floating with the tide” in this new age. I found the ending a bit weak but enjoyed the movie a lot.
The “sequel” Shurayukihime 2 uses the same director and actress, but is a far weaker piece: the story is more about power struggles between a corrupt fledgling government and anarchists and slum-dwellers than the title character – she stands on the sidelines of the story developments and steps in to kill enemies. This time, geysers of blood aren’t enough and there are pretty disgusting torture, disease, eye-stabbing and dismemberment scenes that turned me off. The story goes back and forth but isn’t engaging, though there were some nice scenes (descending from the mountain in a single shot, fighting within rings of opponents on the beach).
The reimagining of Shurayukihime titled Princess Blade shares almost nothing with its alleged source material. It’s set in a dystopian near-future-styled world, and concerns two almost separate stories glued together with just very minor overlap. I was disappointed because there was barely a movie there: the action scenes developed no storyline, and were separated by plodding romance and insubstantial consipracy subplots. In some ways the action half was the revenge story of the first Shurayukihime movie and the other half was the politics of the second, but it wasn’t executed anywhere near well enough to succeed in either.