||The idea of a modern-day samurai movie with a feminist twist is rather silly, but that’s essentially what “The Princess Blade” is. By turns violent and brooding, it’s stronger on style than sense, but genre fans might find it at least sporadically amusing.
The story, based on a Japanese comic book, occurs in an unspecified time and place, and is preceded by an elaborate introductory narration to set the stage. In a country that looks rather like wilderness punctuated with the post-apocalyptic ruins of mangled industrial units, the ruling structure is under attack by mysterious rebels and hires a company of bodyguard/assassins called the Takemizaguchi as a sort of aggressive secret service. One of their members is the petite but devastatingly efficient Yuki (Yumiko Shaku), who’s utterly loyal to her boss Byakurai (Kyusaku Shimada) until Kuka (Yoichi Numata), a wizened servant of her long-dead mother, appears and informs her that Byakurai was behind the deaths of her parents. She confronts him and is soon on the run from the old gang. Eventually she makes her way to a remote gas station where Takashi (Hideaki Ito), an idealistic young rebel, resides with his sister Aya (Yoko Maki), a girl psychologically damaged by witnessing her parents’ murder. Takashi initially believes that Yuki has been sent to kill him, but gradually they begin to trust one another, and Takashi nurses her back to health after Yuki is seriously wounded in a duel against a group of the Takemizaguchi. Romance is even in the air. But double trouble appears in the form of Byakurai on the one hand and a sinister rebel associate of Takashi’s on the other. Much mayhem and sadness follow.
“The Princess Blade” certainly manages to convey an oppressive, gloomy mood, accentuated by the bleached-out greens and greys favored by cinematographer Taro Kawazu, and leavened only slightly by the solemnly idyllic tone of the relationship that develops between Yuki and Takashi. The action sequences staged by Hong Kong wizard Donnie Yen, moreover, are muscular and eye-catching (even if, for a viewer not attuned to the form, they do rather go on). And Shaku and Ito are both absurdly attractive--she’s a model, while he certainly resembles one--and certainly capable of playing the impassive, angst-ridden souls the story requires. (She’s adept in the martial arts material, too.) But in the final analysis the picture is effect without substance, an interesting genre exercise but not much more. Kurosawa it’s definitely not.