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A violent past stalks a samurai princess on the run in 'Blade'

Though bloody, the futuristic tale's appeal lies in its near-surreal, comic-book look.

August 08, 2003|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

Shinsuke Sato's ultra-violent yet bleakly compelling "The Princess Blade" was first filmed in 1973 as a traditional saga of samurai revenge called "Lady Snowblood." It has now been boldly and imaginatively set in the near future in which stark, derelict industrial landscapes on the outskirts of a dark, ominous metropolis contrast with stretches of unspoiled wilderness. With its stylized, near-surreal comic-book look and roots, "The Princess Blade" has all the makings of a cult film.

For generations, members of the Takemikazuchi clan have stuck together since losing their positions as swords for hire to a deposed monarch in an adjacent kingdom. They are now in the service of the government to put down any rebels in what has become an out-of-control consumer society with an accompanying loss of freedom of expression.

On the verge of her 20th birthday, at which time she would become the clan ruler with the title of princess, the peerless swordswoman Yuki (Yumiko Shaku) learns that her mother was not killed by clan enemies 18 years earlier but by its current leader Byakurai (Kyusaku Shimada). Failing to defeat Byakurai in a duel, Yuki is forced to flee for her life from the Takemikazuchi's hideout in the Forest Zone, slipping away in a truck driven by a government rebel, Takashi (Hideaki Ito), who gives her shelter in his quarters by a gas station.

Both these young people, who are attracted to each other long before they realize it, have grown weary of their violent existences; Takashi has become repulsed by the ever-growing number of deaths caused by his group's terrorist attacks staged in the name of freedom. Yuki and Takashi long to escape to a place of peace and safety.

Working from his and Kei Kunii's script, Sato tells the couple's story with rigor and a spare visual style. The film is studded with bravura -- and bloody -- swordplay staged breathtakingly by Donnie Yen, who choreographed the fight scenes for the 2002 Wesley Snipes vampire movie "Blade II." Whether set in the past or, as in this case, the future, samurai movies are never for the faint of heart, even if their violence is expressive of a fatalistic, existentialist point of view, and "The Princess Blade" is no exception.


'The Princess Blade'

MPAA rating: R, for strong violence

Times guidelines: Typical martial-arts ultra-violence and gore; not for the faint of heart.

Yumiko Shaku...Yuki, the Princess Blade

Hideaki Ito...Takashi

Kyusaku Shimada...Byakurai

Shiro Sano...Kidokoro, the anti-government terrorist leader

Yoichi Numata...Kuka, an elderly clansman

An ADV Films release of a "Shurayukihime" Film Partners presentation of an Oz production. Director Shinsuke Sato. Action director Donnie Yen. Producer Taka Ichise. Screenplay by Sato and Kei Kunii; inspired by the comic book "Shurayukihime" by Kazuo Koike & Kazuo Kamimura. Cinematographer Taro Kawazu. Editor Hirohide Abe. Music Kenji Kawai. Art director Tomoyuki Maruo. Special visual effects Shinji Higuchi. In Japanese with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes.

Exclusively at the Fairfax Cinemas, Beverly Boulevard at Fairfax Avenue, (323) 655-4010; the Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 844-6500; and the University 6, Campus Drive, across from UCI Irvine, (800) FANDANGO No. 43

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