Hunter Minokichi and his elderly mentor shelter from a snowstorm, whereupon they encounter a ghostly figure who kills the elder with her frost breath but spares Minokichi with a warning that if he ever speaks of her she will return. He later meets lost young woman Yuki, who has no personal history and looks just like the killer spirit, and they soon fall for each other and marry. Many years later when their daughter Ume has grown to a teenager, history seems to begin repeating itself.
The plot synopsis above might read somewhat disjointed, but such lack of cohesion is an accurate reflection of Snow Woman’s structure. While certainly a distinct story, it doesn’t follow traditional narrative flow, having some scenes end suddenly once pertinent details have been related but before events draw to a natural conclusion. This is in no way meant as a detraction, far from it the ethereal atmosphere is what gives the film its unique nature, which at times feels like a visual interpretation of a recounted dream.
The story is inspired by the Yuki-onna figure from Japanese folklore (and more specifically a tale recounted by myth collector Lafcadio Hearn), and despite being a Japanese movie featuring a murderous supernatural woman with long dark hair, it’s a far cry from the typical J-horror ghost tales so popular in the early ‘00s.
The film has a timeless quality to it, not only due to the impression that it could take place at any historical or present-day point, but also because the setting seems to exist in different times simultaneously. The stark black and white opening sees the hunters dressed in what appears to be feudal-era garb, while the subsequent softly-lit colour sequences feature contemporary settings such as a factory or a school playground. No attempt is made to explain the existence of the supernatural, rather there is a straightforward expectation to accept that a mystical forest realm of spirits and tradition exists directly alongside a real world of modern industry. Such dualities abound throughout, with practically every element of the story – be it character, location, setting or occurrence – having some opposite or reflection to balance its inclusion.
As the frostbitten bodies of people Yuki and Ume have encountered begin to mysteriously turn up, the issue isn’t really whether or not Yuki is a physical manifestation of the Snow Woman, but rather what the developing situation means for all involved. While the film poses its questions more or less directly, it leaves it up to the viewer to interpret for themselves what the answers are.
Far more introspective than most genre fare, Snow Woman is as beautiful and haunting as its titular spirit, a sinister and mesmerising tale that lingers in the senses like the deep chill of her deadly breath.
SNOW WOMAN / CERT: TBA / DIRECTOR: KIKI SUGINO / SCREENPLAY: KIKI SUGINO, MITSUO SHIGETA, SEIGAN TOMINOMORI / STARRING: KIKI SUGINO, MUNETAKA AOKI, MAYU YAMAGUCHI, SHIRÔ SANO / RELEASE DATE: TBA
Expected Rating: 7/10