starring Hideaki Ito, Yumiko Shaku, Shirô Sano, Yoichi Numata
screenplay by Kei Kunii, Shinsuke Sato, based on the comic by Kazuo Kamimura and Kazuo Koike
directed by Shinsuke Sato
by Walter Chaw An indescribably cool post-apocalyptic martial-arts fairy tale, Shinsuke Sato's The Princess Blade follows the saga of a young woman named Yuki (Yumiko Shaku, bearing a startling resemblance to Pat Benatar) who discovers that her adoptive band of assassin ronin might have killed her mother and stolen her birthright as the heir to a kingdom. With swordplay choreographed by Hong Kong master Donny Yen (Iron Monkey), Shurayuki-Hime has moments that defy description and bugger the imagination, including the first slow-motion bullet evasion post-The Matrix that doesn't play as some rip-off or sickly parody. With bombastic kinetics tempered by beautiful comic-art tableaux (note the meticulous framing of one-shots) and an amazing trust in silence for an action film (see also: The Bourne Identity), The Princess Blade is this year's Brotherhood of the Wolf: Bracingly innovative and exhilarating, it mixes fantasy with sword-fu in a brew so intoxicating as to threaten at every moment to rouse the audience to exuberant display. Melodramatic and overblown in the best possible way, The Princess Blade is indicated by mad genius but weighed down in its middle by laggard plotting and a deadly slackening of pace. Still, a live-action film that owes as much to anime and manga as Tsui Hark and King Hu--and done this well besides--is cause for celebration.