THE PRINCESS BLADE (a.k.a. Shirayuki Hime) is based on the manga by Kazou Koike with the same name. The film is not a remake of the Japanese classic; "Lady Snowblood" (Lady Snowblood greatly influenced Tarantino's Kill Bill) but rather a tribute film to that classic. The film is a post-apocalyptic vision of the future; however, it does successfully preserve the essence and motif of Japanese samurai films. Director Shinsuke Sato's vision on the manga is very interesting as his execution deals with typical samurai films in a futuristic vision of an industrialized Japan.
The House of Takemikazuchi is a clan of assassins. Due to modernization and the majority of people with undesirable lives, these once noble warriors are now assassins for hire who will kill anyone for the right price. There is no way one may relinquish ties to the clan. Yuki (Yumiko Shaku, SKY HIGH), an orphan who was raised by the clan is among the best killers among them. Unbeknownst to her, she is the true heir to the Takemikazuchi bloodline. One day, she was told by a stranger that her mother; Princess Azora was killed by Byakurai, the current clan leader. She tries to kill him but fails. Forced to flee, and to fight for her survival against her brethren; Yuki comes across Takashi, a young activist leader and finds comfort in his company. Meanwhile, her past threatens to catch up to her as Byakurai plots to hunt her and down and kill her.
At first impression, one may think that "Princess Blade" is a Jidai Geki swordplay spectacle but in truth, this film is a bit slower paced than most Japanese action flicks such as Versus. There is a hint of existentialism in its plot; this film carries more of the "samurai" essence in past films and focuses more in its humanity. "Hime" does give a hint of the samurai philosophy and characteristics; such as nobility, loyalty, allegiance and honor. When watching "Hime", please consider a modern feudal Japan with characters seeking isolation. Samurai usually are willing to die for his beliefs/ideals with honor as the road to glory, Yuki, upon her discovery of the truth and her betrayal finds something more worthwhile to live for; she discovers something more to her life than her past killing ways. Her meeting with Takashi (Hideaki Ito) after an attack, allows Yuki to appreciate a peaceful existence as they discover each other's lives. Takashi serves as a conscience for Yuki as he once performed some assassinations in the form of terrorism against the state; he questions her moral beliefs when he finds out her links to the House of Takemikazuchi. I believe this approach is a nice touch since it takes the film from a simple revenge premise to a warmer one of one's desire to escape their past choices to happier and warmer pastures.
The action/swordplay choreography by Donnie Yen raises the expectations of the action fanatic. His choreography is quite inventive as he mixes in almost anime-like posturing with the usual chaotic swordplay. The Donnie Yen touch is omnipresent in each duel with each ascending and sliding sword strokes; grappling is even used in close quarters with superb execution that shows ferocity. However, even with the sheer intensity of the action footages, one may notice and give comparison to previous samurai films; the KATANA sword is NOT a one-handed sword. Yen choreographs the scenes with the usual wire-fu at times and the mentioned Katana swords are sometimes wielded like a one-handed flat TAI-CHI sword whose concept is to wound an opponent before a kill. This presents a little inaccuracy in the sequences. However exciting the swordplay sequences may be, they aren't without fault and I've definitely seen better ones executed in other modern chambara films such as AZUMI and ARAGAMI.
"Princess Blade" may not be a perfect film but it does offer interesting concepts of redemption and gives homage to past samurai period films. The director may have become a bit over-ambiguous with his views of way too many topics and philosophical issues that the proceedings seem to lose their intensity and the film almost stops to a crawl around the middle. With its darker setting and the post-apocalyptic atmospheric feel, the themes of samurai films by Kurosawa and Inagaki are still the main ingredients. Fans expecting a non-stop action spectacle may be a bit disappointed; as with most Japanese films it leans more towards its humanity and focuses on its philosophy. Still, the gorgeous visuals with the action choreography do create a unique experience for samurai aficionados.
RECOMMENDED! [3 ½ Out of 5 Stars]
I have the region-3 release from IVL with Anamorphically Enhanced picture transfer. The U.S. release is Letterboxed and carries a Japanese Language track as well as an English Dubbed track. Use the Japanese track with the subtitles. The U.S. region 1 release does have a lot of extras I've heard.
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The Princess Blade is an old-fashioned tale of Samurai honor and revenge transposed to an apocalyptic near-future and featuring as its hero a deadly young heroine named Yuki (the aggressively adorable Yumiko Shaku). Director Shinsuke Sato tells the story without a speck of irony, and gives it a cool, stylish visual scheme spiced with the graceful fight choreography of Donnie Yen, a veteran of Hong Kong action movies. While the lack of irony is refreshing and the action passes muster, Sato plays it so straight that nothing about the film stands out as memorable. It has the feel of a too-faithful adaptation of its manga source material, and hearkens back to the Japanese samurai movies of the 1960s and '70s without adding anything to the genre but a slightly different setting.