The Princess Blade

Director: Shinsuke Sato
Year; 2001
Rating: 7

In an indeterminate time (though it looks a lot like modern days) and in an indeterminate country (that looks a lot like Japan), an authoritarian country isolated from much of the world is under attack by an internal rebellion. One of their weapons of suppression is the House of Takemikazuchi, which is a tribe of assassins who had to leave another country but have found their services welcomed by this government. This potential large narrative canvass (in the introductory text) is quickly brought down to size by a budget that only allows for a small group of characters and scenes that take place in forests, open fields, empty roads or interior sets. Nothing else of this world is ever seen really. Yet it doesn't matter so much as this story of one of the female assassins breaking away and seeking revenge is full of action with a fantasy styled story pushing it forward. Nothing that will grab you by your pants, but it is a smooth slick ride that is fully put on the shoulders of it's cute, short haired petite expressionless actress.

To a large degree the film's enjoyment consists of the action. There are three large action set pieces and a few small ones that are very well done and reminded me more of Hong Kong action choreography than Japanese - though many Japanese action films over the past 25 years have been influenced by Hong Kong (as has much of the world). But as I learned after watching the film, there is a good reason for this similarity. None other than Donnie Yen travelled to Japan to choreograph this film. I am not sure the reason why as he usually only performs this duty if he is in the film (with a couple exceptions) - but he does a fine job here with his usual fast as a blink action with a fair amount of wire-work, kicks, flipping over people, sharp clashing sword work and one against many scenarios. I say sword because even though guns exist in this fantasy world, the House of Takemikazuchi prefers doing their killing with sword. As old fashioned as a log on a fire place.

The film begins with the Tribe ambushing rebels on an empty highway and killing them all with a small girl doing much of the dirty work. She is Yuki (Yumiko Shaku), nearly 20 years old and brought up learning to kill. And kill well. Her mother and father died years before. She is next tasked with going after a deserter and killing him - which she does with no compunction. But she meets up with an old man who used to serve her mother - the Princess of the House and he tells Yuki that her mother was killed by the current head of the Takemikazuchi in order to take her place - and that Yuki is the rightful head when she soon turns 20 years old. This leads to attempting revenge and escaping with the Tribe on her heels. After she is badly wounded in a fight, she finds refuge in a home with a brother and mute sister. But they are still looking for her. It is a three section film - action - drama - action which in my opinion they could have cut some from the drama section as I am not sure what it adds other than trying to slow the film down - there is a sub-plot regarding the brother that felt out of place. But a good watch. How believable you find this small girl as a whirling dervish killer is up to you.