photo manipulation by nacrowe
to me TOSHIYA FUJITA's LADY SNOWBLOOD (TOHO, 1973) is the ultimate revenge film. if you've seen KILL BILL, then you will be familiar with the plot because basically this is the source material for that whole franchise. the main character here seeks revenge upon three assassins who killed her father and brother and raped her mother.
the plot to tell you the truth is not what fascinates me about this film. in fact the whole "you raped/killed my (enter female family member)" is the laziest trope in film history, which is why it is used in every terrible STEVEN SEAGAL / JEAN CLAUDE VAN DAMME / SYLVESTER STALLONE film ever.
what makes this film compelling is its choreography. in essence the delicate interplay between its camera positions and editing is what sets it apart. it is essentially a master class in effective utilizing obtuse camera angles and long and short cuts that leave the viewer anticipating the action of our heroine. i am not a big fan of actions films, but when the camera is utilized to showcase movement in a suspenseful, climactic sequence of thought-through maneuvers that embellish the intensity of a scene, then i am all in. case in point, any of the death scenes. long establishing shots are usually punctuated by quick extreme closeups of the heroine and swift cuts on action to her striking down her target. just brilliant.
the other aspect of this film i appreciate is how it turns notions of JAPANESE FEMININITY on its head. being a delicate, passive, soft-spoken flower in the context of this film are the perfect guise to prey upon unsuspecting targets. it is almost as if these behavioral tropes of a traditionally chauvinistic normative culture that are meant to guard women from undue attention and risk here ironically presents men with the opposite. not sure if this film was meant to question the validity of these gender prescriptions but it makes the case nonetheless.
it makes sense to me that this film in particular was of interest for QUENTIN TARANTINO, as he is known for watch a film multiple times just to observe and make note of sequencing and editing. i highly suggest watching this film as a companion piece to KILL BILL VOL. 1 as both utilize a similar aesthetic to how they present action and thrill us with catching us off guard with a well choreographed cut. they also both challenge the audience to reassess what makes an ideal assassin and how notions of femininity plays into that role.
this is an interesting film that is definitely worth seeking out.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
i first saw KINJI FUKASAKU's brutally intense film BATTLE ROYALE (2000) in high school when i was in KUWAIT and didn't really understand it until i taught high school years later at an international school in JAPAN.
the film deals with a series of japanese high school students that are whisked away to an island where they are reluctant participants in a sadistic televised game where only one student survives. each participant is given a weapon and a collar attached to their throat with explosives. each hour that someone isn't killed results in a random collar being detonated. the film is beyond vicious and the premise is pretty terrifying.
when i saw it as a high school student i didn't latch on to any of the underlying themes or embedded criticism of the japanese public school system. i saw it purely on a visceral level of going along the ride of the narrative. its too bad, because what FUKASAKU was describing was very pertinent to my experience attending school in the MIDDLE EAST where conformity was beyond intense, in fact NOT CONFORMING could result in your family losing their visa privileges.
i should backtrack slightly. KUWAIT only allows christians and muslims into their country officially, looking the other way with common domestic and service industry workers from predominantly buddhist and hindu countries in SOUTHEAST ASIA and the INDIAN SUBCONTINENT. common workers were virtual 3rd or 4th class citizens. westerners were definite 2nd class citizens and seen as guests in their country, so long as they weren't jewish. this meant that at my high school any mention of jews, buddhists, hindus, homosexuals, etc. in written form were forbidden from publication, which is exactly why i wrote about those subjects every chance i could. my term papers literally had to be burned or else my teacher stood the risk of being deported.
back to the film. when i taught high school in YOKOHAMA i really got a close-up look at japanese culture and the psychological toll it took on students that didn't fit in. by that i mean literally students that were not fully japanese. i had students that were a mix of japanese and turkish/uszbeki/pakistani/korean/chinese/american parentage. the school was specifically made to cater to the mixed crowd due to the notorious OVERWHELMING BRUTALITY of the japanese public school system.
JAPAN is a conservative culture that is very traditional and for them being japanese means having 100% japanese blood. if you are 50% japanese, by their measure you are NOT japanese. i learned from my students the levels of unrelenting torment they received from other students, both in class and online, from former peers at public schools for not being japanese enough. apparently the suicide rate is very high among students in japan, partly because of bullying, partly because of parental pressure to succeed.
when i taught at STUYVESANT HIGH SCHOOL in MANHATTAN there was this thing called an "Asian Fail" which was any grade below a 95. essentially not getting an A+ to traditional chinese/koream/japanese parents meant you failed and the familial pressure was intense. locks on windows were everywhere there as a precaution for possible suicide attempts, which sadly were not uncommon.
BATTLE ROYALE in a dramatic manner questions why the japanese public school system is so intense, effectively creating an environment were even those that survive are traumatized by the experience. the film questions if the cost is worth the benefit of having a homogenious society that accepts and relishes its traditions. this story very much reminds me of SHIRLEY JACKSON's 1948 short story "The Lottery," which similarly critiques the cost of unquestioned traditions and cultural practices that effectively hurt the population.
as somebody who experienced such sanctioned toxicity in two places, this film has served as a mirror to those concerns that makes me rethink my assumptions each time i watch it. just a brutal film of the highest caliber. required viewing.