By Jade Bonus
I don’t think I am alone in saying that Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill turned me on to Japanese cinema (or I could be alone and there is an echo in here). The 2003 kill fest is still one of my favourites, not only for the aforementioned killfesting, but also for the fact that, like many of Tarantino’s films, it knows it’s a film and uses all the modes that the form has to offer to create a truly resolved and engaging narrative. While I have now convinced you all enough that, yes, I went to film school, it is indeed time to push on to the all-important crux of this edition’s MediaBug – ace Japanese films – for a change.
It’s fitting that the two films for your consideration this month are about assassins, and awesome ones at that, Lady Snowblood and Golgo 13: Assignment Kowloon.
Lady Snowblood (1974)
Tarantino has been extremely forthcoming in the admitting the role that Lady Snowblood played in influencing both the narrative of Kill Bill: Vol. 1 and characterization of O-ren Ishiii. It’s an influence that is as justified as it is all-out derivative (but in the best possible way). In fact, at least a quarter of the fun in watching Lady Snowblood is finding all the parts that Tarantino shamelessly ripped (or ‘payed homage to’ if you are feeling more generous) from this classic film (the other three-quarters are the epic fight scenes, the plot and the blood… so much blood…even though it looks like red acrylic paint).
Titled 修羅雪姫 (Shurayukihime) in Japanese, the film is based on a manga by Kazuo Koike and Kazuo Kamimura. Told in a non-linear narrative, the story follows Yuki, a child born in prison to a mother who birthed her solely to seek vengeance against the gang that her murdered husband and raped her. After her mother dies in prison, Yuki is sent off to train at a young age in combat and swordplay and by her twenties is a lethal assassin for hire. Despite her day job, Yuki spends the film making good on the will of her mother and finds time to get her bloody revenge…and it’s awesome.
While some aspects of the film have dated (the red acrylic paint blood… cough…) the fight scenes remain impressive and Meiko Kaji is absolutely mesmerizing in the title role. It’s not surprising that after Lady Snowblood Kaji was offered roles in Hollywood but turned them down, proving that she is just as much of a badass as the woman she portrayed. If you can’t get enough of Lady Snowblood from your first watch (and you won’t), rest easy: there’s a sequel, rejoice!
Watch the trailer here:
Golgo 13: Assignment Kowloon (1977)
Two words: Sonny Chiba. Sure, you may know him as the man from Okinawa who serves The Bride sushi, truth-bombs and a scalp-lifting katana, Hattori Hanzo but Sonny Chiba is way, way more than that. With a far-reaching resume and an expert in more than one martial art (well six if Wiki is to be trusted), Sonny Chiba has starred in the full gamut of Japanese film from action blockbusters to dramas and everything else in between. Unafraid to be both the hero and and the heel, Golgo 13: Assignment Kowloon sees Chiba playing the latter, and you still find excuses to love him for it.
Like Lady Snowblood, Golgo 13: Assignment Kowloon is based on a manga. The manga Golgo 13, first published in 1968 is, according to Wiki, the oldest manga series still in publication which makes it worthy of its own snaps. Given its longevity, there is a Golgo 13 film made prior to Golgo 13: Assignment Kowloon, but Sonny Chiba isn’t in it, so to my mind it doesn’t count.
Golgo 13: Assignment Kowloon, takes place, not surprisingly, in Hong Kong and sees Chiba in the titular role assassining the hell out of the place in a bid to kill drug kingpin Chou Lei Fang. Unfortunately for Golgo 13, Smith, a cop he pissed off on an earlier occasion (probably while he was assassining some shit) is hot on his trail and determined to bring him to justice. Despite his penchant for assassining, Chiba makes Golgo 13 sort of likable, and even if you don’t like the character, watching Sonny Chiba be a badass for an hour and a half in bellbottoms to the wah pedal and horn section backing that only a ’70s action film can provide is well worth your time alone.
Watch the trailer here:
Have you discovered a bloody good Japanese movie? Send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and share the joy!