There's a whole lot of pretty hiding under all the blood
Lady Snowblood is a Japanese grindhouse flick from the ’70s, and is probably best known as being “that movie that inspired Kill Bill.” It’s based on the manga series Shurayukihime by Kazuo Koike and illustrated by Kazuo Kamimura, and it follows the story of a young woman named Yuki, who is conceived and born for the sole purpose of avenging the rape of her mother and the murder of her mother’s husband and son. It takes place in the Meiji era (1868-1912), right after Japan reopens itself to trade with the West, and the fall of the 250 year old Tokugawa Shogunate. The government was pretty much completely overhauled, the previously defunct emperor given back the reigns of power, and a parliament created. Needless to say, this was a period of unrest in Japan’s history, and what happens to Yuki’s mother is a result of that unrest.
Yuki performs her revenge in a dazzling array of gorgeous kimonos, but first I just want to lay out what that means exactly. There are technically two types of Japanese robes for women: the yukata and the kimono. The yukata is typically made of cotton, and meant for the hot, humid summer months. The yukata is also considered more casual. Kimonos, on the other hand, tend to be made of silk and have two visible collars (called eri). The second collar is usually detachable and attaches to the juban, or under robe. Kimonos are typically worn in the winter, or on more formal occasions. The obi is the topmost silk sash that is usually tied in an elaborate bow at the back. It has more layers than you can see, but I won’t really be talking about them. If you want to know more about kimono terminology, here is a pretty good resource.
This is one of the first kimonos we see Yuki in, which is white with a blue flower motif along the bottom. The cerulean obi with gold detailing is probably one of the most beautiful ones she wears in the whole film. Kimono patterns are very seasonal, and the flowers on this one help to reinforce that this scene takes place in the spring/summer. Yuki wears a lot of white, which I think is to represent her innocence and youth, but often when she is wearing this colour, a whole lot of carnage goes down. However, white also ties her to her mother’s dead husband, who is essentially killed for wearing this colour, and white was the colour worn by samurai when committing ritual suicide, which she essentially is. Yuki knows she could die at any time committing her vengeance, and she dresses accordingly.
This blue striped kimono with red obi is one of the most graphic costumes Yuki wears in the films. The colours and the stripes are quite nautical, aren’t they? And very appropriate for assassinating someone on the seashore. You’ll notice that there’s not a lot of white showing here, and this hit is probably the most bloodless. It should also be noted that her juban here (and pretty much in all the scenes where Yuki is out for murder), is red. You can catch flashes of it throughout the film, and I think it’s there to represent both her true murderous intent underneath her innocent beauty, as well as for a hint of sexyness, as red is also considered a very sexy colour in kimono patterns.
As you can tell from the sword, Yuki is out to avenge her mother’s murderers. But the minimal amount of white here means no battle scene is about to go down, and, as it turns out, this target happens to be dead. Yuki also tends to wear purple during calm scenes, either on the kimono or her obi.
There is a lot of white going on in this outfit, and as you can see, the blood spatter gets pretty intense. Her juban during this fight scene is also red, and you catch flashes of it every time she slashes her sword.
Again Yuki is in purple, and again no fighting happens in the scenes where she is wearing this headcovering. My theory is that main purpose of this headcovering is to help emphasize the shock on Yuki’s face when a certain ally reveals who his father truly is (film studies students, eat your heart out).
This is the “final countdown” kimono, and you can see here that her juban is again red, and this kimono is predominantly white. The butterflies also symbolize the souls of the living and the dead, which is why she’s wearing what might be considered a spring motif in the winter. If she was going to go down, she would go down fighting – while making a sartorial impact.