“The Princess Blade” is based on a 70s manga series called Lady Snowblood. Set 500 years in the future, it presents an unnamed post-apocalyptic analog of Japan, blending elements of a dystopian fascist future with a feudal past.
The film opens on an action sequence where we meet Yuki (Yumiko Shaku), a fiercely competent samurai-like female assassin and respected member of the House of Takemikazuchi. Takemikazuchi is a group of mercenary killers, once serving as royal bodyguards in a local monarchy, but in a turn of events reminiscent of the legend of the 47 Ronin, their master was overthrown and they fled to a neighboring country. In their new role they are hired by the ruling government to suppress a rebellion being fomented there.
Yuki’s life is changed on her twentieth birthday when she learns that her mentor and leader of Takemikazuchi, Byakurai (Kyusaku Shmida), was the man who killed her mother Azora when he suspected her of sedition against the house.
Azora had been leader, and that leadership would have passed by succession to Yuki. Once she learns what her mother’s fate was, she turns on Byakurai and sharpened flashing metal mayhem ensues.
The middle section of the narrative is an “Enemy Mine” story in which Yuki is nearly killed in a brutal engagement with her former clan. She is nursed back to health by a young man named Takeshi (Hideaki Ito), one of the rebels (in John Ashcroft’s America, we’ll call him a terrorist) she would normally kill on sight as part of her job. Yuki learns tenderness and affection for the first time with Takeshi, but their love cannot save them from the choices each has made.
Anime fans will recognize immediately that “The Princess Blade” is a live-action anime. Much care has been taken to mimic the look and dynamic style of Japanese animation and this has been accomplished very well. The cinematography of the Japanese countryside is lush and breathtaking. The lighting is superb, and the fog rolling across the battlefield is just 100% badass.
Yumiko Shaku as Yuki is small, beautiful, and stunningly sexy while she plies her deadly skill like a dancer. Her self-assured poise and large expressive eyes say everything that the minimal dialogue doesn’t.
The fight choreography of Donnie Yen is truly a pulse pounding ballet of whirling swordplay. It should be noted that in some of the action sequences the film has clearly been sped up. This does enhance the impact of a body on the ground or a tree, but looks silly in a wide shot with groups of warriors waving swords and running about like katana wielding keystone cops. It is a minor point, and easily overlooked.
It’s not high art, but it is pretty to look at and if you like it when everybody is kung-fu fighting, then “The Princess Blade” is your kind of joint.