Princess Blade (Japan 2001)

Rating: **
Review Date: 4/26/03
Alternate Title: Shurayuki-hime (Princess Yuki)
Director: Shinsuke Sato
Music: Kenji Kawai
Action Choreography: Donnie Yen
Cast: Yumiko Shaku

A bizarre retelling of "Lady Snowblood" (1973) set in a dystopian future where Japan has once again closed its borders from the outside world. Yuki (Japanese spitfire Yumiko Shaku) belongs to an elite group of assassins, which are effectively the ronin of this time period. She's a cold and heartless killer moving up through the ranks of the organization until she learns that her mother was killed by the very same people that she works for. After an unsuccessful attempt at revenge, she flees the clan and is mercilessly pursued for the rest of the film. She manages to befriend a somewhat reluctant anti-establishment terrorist named Takashi and hides out at his place while she does some much needed soul searching and lets her wounds heal. But just when it seems that a better life just might be possible, everything goes to hell and the body count rises until only one is left standing.

Like many Japanese films of this time and genre, the cinematography is beautiful and the film just looks fantastic. Kenji Kawai provides a mournful and moving soundtrack, and Donnie Yen's action choreography is quite good. Unfortunately, the film also suffers from the common Japanese pitfalls of tediously slow pacing and convoluted storytelling. The film starts off quite promising, but then falls into a schizophrenic slump for about an hour as nothing interesting happens (apart from overwrought character development). By the time the action picks up again at the end, it's almost too late to care. Fortunately, Yumiko Shaku is quite fun to watch and she handles her fight scenes with searing conviction and perseverence. Her unflinching delivery is very reminiscent of Yuko Moriyama's Iria character in Keito Amemiya's "Zeiram" films. The fight scenes are energetic and well staged, although the camera work and editing are just a tad too obtrusive for my tastes. The scenes certainly don't lack intensity, though, and there are plenty of nice "oh my god" moments sprinkled throughout. If you can deal with the plodding pace and meandering narrative inherent in Japanese cinema, this film is worth checking out for fans of sci-fi samurai chicks with swords.