Oriental Pearl: LADY SNOWBLOOD (Toho 1973)

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know a whole hell of a lot about Japanese manga. But I do know a little something about movies, and 1973’s LADY SNOWBLOOD was a revelation for me, a game changer that has me yearning for more! As I sat watching, enthralled by the imagery, I couldn’t help but feel I’d seen LADY SNOWBLOOD before, and I had: Quentin Tarantino “borrowed” (some would say stole!) much of the plotline for his KILL BILL films, with some scenes practically lifted verbatim!

Much as I loved KILL BILL VOLS. 1 and 2, I found LADY SNOWBLOOD to be even more entertaining. It’s non-linear plot is structured into chapters (sound familiar, Tarantino buffs?), and the dazzling camerawork and bold, vivid color schemes kept me glued to the screen. A prisoner named Sayo gives birth to a child on a cold winter’s night. The child, Yuki, is to be used as an instrument of vengeance on the three men and one woman responsible for the rape and torture of Sayo and the brutal murder of Yuki’s father and brother. Yuki is trained in the art of swordfighting by stern taskmaster Dokai, rechristened Lady Snowblood, and sent to be an Avenging Angel of Death against those who destroyed her family…

This sets the stage for some stunningly beautiful visuals, co-mingled with plenty of violence and blood-spurting gore. It is a truly amazing, unforgettable  film, and much of the credit goes to director Toshiya Fujita and cinematographer Masaki Tamuro. There’s much artistry blended in among all the mayhem and carnage: the scene at the cliffs where Yuki confronts Banzo Takamura, for example, is haunting, and the finale at the masquerade ball turns into a deadly danse macabre when Yuki takes on her greatest foe, Gishiro Tsukamoro. The unexpected ending will leave you in shock and awe.

Much of the cast will be unfamiliar to western viewers. Meiko Kaji, a star in Japan, is fantastic as Yuki/Lady Snowblood, with her umbrella/samauri sword, red-rimmed eyes, and (purposely) unemotional attitude. Kaji starred in a series of girl biker gang films called the Stray Cat (or Alleycat) Series… I intend on seeing them soon! Ko Nishimura (Dokai) appeared in Kurasawa’s THE BAD SLEEP WELL and YOJIMBO, while Eiji Okada (Tsukamoro) is recognizable from HIROSHIMA, MON AMOUR, THE UGLY AMERICAN,  and the sci-fi kaiju eiga movie THE X FROM OUTER SPACE. Familiar Faces or not, the cast will completely spellbind you.

It’s difficult to convey with mere words what a brilliant achievement LADY SNOWBLLOD is; I can’t seem to find enough superlatives. The film has to be seen to be appreciated, a visual assault on the senses that left me breathless… even with subtitles! Quentin Tarantino came close, and I really do admire his work, but LADY SNOWBLOOD is a movie that deserves a much larger audience. It’s an original (dare I say it?) masterpiece, an incredible cinematic experience, and one you should definitely not miss!

Creature Double Feature 4: RODAN (Toho 1957) and MOTHRA (Toho 1961)

Let’s begin “Halloween Havoc!” season a day early by taking a trip to the Land of the Rising Sun for a pair of kaiju eiga films from Japan’s Toho Studios. Both were directed by GODZILLA’s Godfather Ishiro Honda, have special effects from Eiji Tsuurya, and feature the late Haru Nakajima donning the rubber monster suits. But the similarities end there, for while RODAN is a genuinely scary piece of giant monster terror, MOTHRA is a delightfully bizarre change-of-pace fantasy that began Toho’s turn toward more kid-friendly fare.

RODAN was filmed in 1956, and released in America a year later by DCA (the folks who brought you PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE! ) under the aegis of The King Brothers . There’s more A-Bomb testing in the South Pacific, as Americanized stock footage tells us before the movie proper begins. Miners digging deep into the Earth’s crust are trapped by flooding, and a dead man looking like he’s been “slaughtered like an animal”, his face frozen in horror, has been discovered. Officials are baffled until the appearance of… a GIANT PREHISTORIC BUG! The bug is tracked down into the mineshaft, where security finds a whole mess of the nasty creatures. Their bullets can’t stop them (of course not!), when suddenly an earthquake causes a cave-in.

Reports of a UFO spotted around the East puzzle authorities, too, until we learn this earthquake has led to the hatching of Rodan , a giant pterodactyl. Scientists determine Rodan is a 20 million year old flying reptile weighing 100 tons, with a wingspan of 500 feet! Rodan’s great wings cause hurricane-like destruction, toppling buildings and wrecking trains, and panic in the streets. Not only that, turns out there’s two of the massive monsters, and Japan’s military might proves once again ineffective against the fearsome monstrosities. After scenes of the deadly duo’s rampaging carnage, the military comes up with a bold but dangerous plan – bombard the beasts in their volcano hideaway and let nature take its course.

The local citizens are evacuated and the military unleashes its biggest weapons, erupting the volcano and ending in fiery doom for the Rodans. The movie is a blast (pun intended), and Honda keeps things taut and terrifying throughout. Among the dubbed voices you’ll immediately recognize Paul Frees in a couple roles and veteran Keye Luke doing some narration. Allegedly, STAR TREK’s George Takei also did some dubbing. RODAN is one of Toho’s scariest, definitely not for kids. Our next feature is a different story.

MOTHRA (in Toho-Scope!) is pure adventure-fantasy, which seems to have “borrowed” heavily from KING KONG. I watched the original (subtitled) Japanese version, and it was a revelation, a charming take on the genre complete with comedy and musical interludes between the destruction. A typhoon causes a Japanese ship to sink, and some survivors are found on Infant Island, used for atomic testing by the Rolisican government. Don’t worry of you’ve never heard of Rolisica; it’s entirely fictional! Anyway, those survivors show no signs of radiation poisoning, and a joint expedition by Japan and Rolisica is formed, including Rolisican explorer Nelson, Japanese linguist Chinjo, and others… but no reporters allowed! This doesn’t stop intrepid newshawk Zen “Bulldog” Fukuda (played by comedian Frankie Sakai) from stowing away onboard disguised as a cabin boy!

The expedition discovers a lush green jungle valley, and the curious Chinjo stumbles upon a clearing filled with colorful flora straight out of ALICE IN WONDERLAND. He also stumbles upon The Fairies, twin foot-high girls played by Japanese singing sensations The Peanuts (Emi and Yumi Ito). Meanie Nelson tries to snatch them, when the expedition is surrounded by menacing island natives, forcing him to reconsider. But later, when the expedition is finished, Nelson and his thugs return to Infant Island, kill the natives, and kidnap the girls, exploiting them as the main attraction at a Tokyo theater a la KONG’s Carl Denham.

But the twins have the power of telepathy, and use their singing talents to summon the great god Mothra to rescue them. Mothra hatches from her big blue egg (yes, Mothra’s a she), and the immense caterpillar swims her way to Japan. Nelson refuses to give up his miniature meal tickets, and the relentless Mothra crumbles everything in her path before building a cocoon around the Tokyo Tower. Japan and Rolisica team to blast said cocoon with atomic heat rays, which results in the creeping caterpillar emerging as a full-grown giant (and very colorful!) moth! Mothra makes a beeline (or is it mothline) for Rolisica’s capitol, New Kirk City to free the twins, which in turn leads to a strange and wonderful happy ending for all. Except Nelson, of course.

Honda’s direction here is much lighter in tone, and I enjoyed Sakai’s performance as the reporter Fukuda. The Ito Twins also appear in this film’s sequel, GODZILLA VS. THE THING, in which “The Thing” is none other than mighty Mothra! Their singing is a delight (though I didn’t understand a word of it, not being fluent in Japanese), and the score by composer Yuji Koseki is my all-time Toho favorite. RODAN and MOTHRA would make a perfect ‘Creature Double Feature’ for your upcoming ‘Halloween Havoc!’ party.

Speaking of ‘Halloween Havoc!’, it officially kicks off tomorrow with a titanic trio of classic horror stars sending up Edgar Allan Poe! In the meantime, enjoy these links to other posts in the ‘Creature Double Feature’ series:

Halloween Havoc!: GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS (Toho/TransWorld 1956)

“History shows again and again, how nature points out the folly of man”-

“Godzilla” by Blue Oyster Cult


Let’s kick off this year’s “Halloween Havoc” with the Grandaddy of kaiju eiga, GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS. The Big G first hit Japanese movie screens in 1954, and made its way to American shores two years later in a reedited version with new narrative footage. I’ve only seen the Americanized interpretation, so I can’t comment on Inoshiro Honda’s original vision, but I do enjoy this film a lot more than the endless, silly sequels that ensued. I’d go as far as saying GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS is one of the best sci-fi flicks of the 50’s, one that’s influence looms like Big G’s shadow even today.


We start with a familiar sight: Tokyo in ruins, “a smoldering memorial to the unknown”! American reporter Steve Martin (played by Raymond Burr, not the “wild and crazy guy” comic) is trapped under debris from the chaos unleashed, and narrates the tale for us. Martin’s learned that eight ships have been destroyed recently, caused by “a blinding flash of light, the ocean burst into flame”. Represntitives of the military and science community have a conference, and Dr. Yemane leads a team to Odo Island, where the natives claim they’ve seen a monster known to them as Godzilla. The Big G makes an impressive screen debut: he’s (she’s?) 400 feet tall, a fire-breathing land/sea Jurassic hybrid bent on destruction. Nuclear testing is to blame for Godzilla’s resurrection, and depth bombs can’t stop. Soon the monster heads to the mainland for more devastation.


Godzilla attacks as the panic-stricken populace evacuates Tokyo. The Army rigs the city’s electrical high-tension wires to stop the beast, but even 300,000 volts can’t contain Godzilla! The monster wreaks havoc, melting towers with it’s flame breath, turning “the heart of Tokyo into a sea of fire”! The carnage continues until scientist Serizawa, involved in a love triangle with Yemane’s daughter Emiko and ship captain Ogata, gives in and uses his new Oxygen Destroyer weapon to kill the beast at sea, sacrificing his life in the process so Tokyo may rise again.

Inoshira Honda’s footage looks much better than the film shot in America under Terry Morse’s direction. They give it a good try, using actors with their backs to the camera to meet with Burr, but Honda’s darker vision just doesn’t quite match the more pedestrian American scenes. Even with this quibble, the movie kept me enthralled, though I’ve just got to see the original Japanese version one of these days.


The Big G himself (herself?) is much scarier than in the subsequent sequels. There’s no “wrestling match” style monster battles here, just good old fashioned destruction as Godzilla rampages on Tokyo. The monster isn’t overused, and the rubber suit special effects are shot to good advantage, with Masao Tamai’s black and white cinematography ideal for the movie. GODZILLA spawned a slew of imitators (THE GIANT BEHEMOTH, GORGO, REPTILICUS) , but the original Big G  is head and shoulders above the rest.

“Oh no/There goes Tokyo/Go, go Godzilla!”

“Godzilla” by Blue Oyster Cult


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