Lady Snowblood / Lady Snowblood 2 Blu-ray Review
Lady Snowblood: Blizzard from the Netherworld
Well, although there's some signs of remastering, it's really rather dull on the whole. With a 2.35:1 1080p AVC encode and a movie that's over 40 years old, you don't particularly expect to be utterly dazzled, but I did feel a little underwhelmed by the video presentation. Everything seems to be lacking in something.
Contrast is really rather poor. Everything being ever so slightly dull and lacking in depth. There's almost a grey overlay of grading on top, which is quite a shame really since the scenery and cinematography in this movie is really quite something. Ocassionally there's a hint of fluctuation in the levels of the picture too which can be a little offputting. Now and then, contrast dips and everything gets slightly brighter and more washed out.
This instability leads to another area lacking in salt. Blacks. They're more dark grey than black really. They don't really have very much depth either, and shadow detail is less than I had hoped for. Of course, they're certainly far better than the worst I've seen, but they do leave a lot to be desired and can result in everything feeling a little bland. Again a bit of an issue for me since there's a wonderful scene on the beach where Yuki is taking out one of her victims that I was genuinely hoping to see more detail than I saw in the DVD versions. Sadly, it's only marginally better. Perhaps a product of the lighting on locations rather than the fault of the Blu-ray transfer.
Colours are, again, a little on the unstable side. Vibrancy is not the order of the day here. Skin tones are a little flat and lack texture, but really this is nit-picking, since this was often the intention with Japanese cinema. Saying that though, it's really not that bad. Meiko Kaji has never looked more scrumptious, and with a hair-do that never moves, the clarity of the image when it comes to skin forgives it's lack of texture and slightly faded colour. It's soft, as you'd expect, but it's totally acceptable given the content and it's age.
One thing that I can say with confidence about the image is that it's sharper than with previous versions. I'm not going to get too carried away, because ultimately when compared to image quality of today it's still lacking a lot of clarity, but for the time, it's a great improvement on DVD. Fine object detail isn't anywhere near todays standards, but what you get here is detail that has never been seen before. The folds of Yuki's dress flowing with her fluid movements. Where trees used to be a blurry green mess, they now have a definition that enables us to pick out individual leaves.
Overall, it's Lady Snowblood like you've never seen it. Not a patch on today's standards, but folks, this is more than 40 years old now.
Lady Snowblood: Love song of Vengeance
Again, you have to compare it to movies of the same ilk. It's no good comparing Lady Snowblood to any movie of the same era, as there were definite stylistic differences between genres at the time. With that in mind, there's not a huge amount that's different between the two movies. They're both decent, and stand up well against the likes of Lone wolf and Cub and Shogun's Samurai.
The whole image feels a little less dim than with the first movie, perhaps something that the 2 years between them afforded it. It's brighter and more vibrant. Side by side they would be difficult to tell apart, but in the colour stakes, Snowblood 2 pips the post.
So much of the camera work is below par. Shots are framed with foreground characters too low in order to fit the background characters in. Camera movement is dizzying and quite horrible at times. Tracking the couple below as they round a corner, most of the shot is upside down to the audience. Poor on a big screen.
On the whole, both of these movies look great when you consider their age. With no blemishes or lines present in either, Snowblood 2 is the marginally better transfer. Also when comparied to other Toho movies, they actually stand out well. You can tell they're old movies, but you kind of want that with old movies, don't you?
Lady Snowblood: Blizzard from the Netherworld
With an original Mono audio track from 1973, expectations should be managed. Although it boasts a DTS Master 2.0 LPCM Japanese audio track, it really is showing it's age. There's a lot of distortion on the louder elements such as shouting and whaling (there is a lot of this as Snowblood tends to chop people up quite painfully), and the sound effects for whooshes, though plentiful, really are a product of their time. Music is, well, it's funky as hell. It's straight off the night train at times, blasting a frenetic and beefy bass line over some frantic and sizzling high hats. Sadly, it lets the tone and atmosphere of the movie, which is otherwise excellent and hugely appropriate, down significantly for me.
Dialogue is out of sync a lot of the time, and is quite obviously heavily laiden with ADR. Set recording at the time was generally hit and miss, so it's not uncommon to find this to be the case with early Japanese cinema. When there's no shouting or screaming, then there's a lot of grunting and “effort” noises. To me, this kind of sound design adds nothing, and serves only to irritate. However, whilst it doesn't add anything to the movie, it doesn't really take very much away from it either.
Although it's an uncompressed and un-encoded audio track, the frequency range is narrow. Highs are crunchy and distort frequently, whilst lows below 100Hz are virtually non existent. Overall, not a great audio presentation, but unless I was being overly harsh I would describe it as – A product of it's time that meets expectations.
Lady Snowblood: Love song of Vengeance
Not a great deal to point out when comparing it with the first movie. Dialogue remains often out of sync, with high volume stuff like shouting clipping on the microphones. There's an abundance of effort noises here too that really does become grating after a while.
Frequency range is again quite narrow, with the low end being elusive once again. Highs crunch a little, but not quite as much as the first movie.
Music is really going for the seventies vibe here, and I found myself almost cringing at how inappropriate some of the music seemed compared to the imagery. The scene where the Rickshaws are hijacked by the police and Yuki has to make her escape is like something out of the Streets of San Francisco or Bullit. Lalo Schifrin would be proud (just to be clear, he probably wouldn't be proud at all actually, this was just for effect).
There are also long periods of silence. It feels like a mistake, but it's clearly an artistic choice. A wrong one if you ask me. Around the torture scene in when there are rather horrible things happening, there's large portions of silence, as if to make a point. It doesn't really work though, and just comes across as either laziness or an accident. The hissing on the audio track would indicate that it hasn't been cleaned up either.
All in all, it's not awful, but there's little that stands out as great.
Pitiful offerings as far as extras go.
Trailer: Lady Snowblood – Needs no explanation
Interview with Japanese Cinema expert Jasper Sharp – 10 minutes of Jasper Sharp talking at length about the film and japanese cinema at the time generally.
Trailer: Lady Snowblood 2 – Again, no explanation required.
It would be a crying shame if anyone who enjoyed Tarantino's Kill Bill movies live out their days without seeing this, since Kill Bill owes so much to it. A samurai cult classic that stands the test of time when it comes to story and narrative, but leaves a little to be desired when it comes to modern day standards. It's the ultimate in traditional femme fatale revenge hack and slash. Nothing compared to the gore of Lone Wolf and Cub, but altogether more classy and stylish. When it comes to the woefully misguided sequel, things get a little more troublesome. It smacks of not really knowing what it wants to do, be or say, and as a result, completely falls short of a worthy sequel to a brilliant first movie. Probably worth a watch if you're curious, but don't expect much in the same vein as Lady Snowblood 1.
As for the Blu-ray package, I have to say although I'm pleased with it and it's one that I will happily add to my collection, I'm underwhelmed by the overall presentation. Decent enough video presentation, and nothing glaringly wrong with the audio presentation, but decidedly light on the extras front. The best thing about this package is the first movie, and yes, it's worth owning just for that.
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