Journey Through Kill Bill: Part 5
Steve P’s Journey Through Kill Bill was originally written for and published on Genrebusters. This article is reposted on Playtime by permission of the author. You can catch up on the Journey by reading Part 1 & 2 or Part 3 & 4 here.
Chapter 5: Showdown at House of Blue Leaves
Chapter five. Man! What a brutal, bloody, gruesome segment. Part of me would have loved to skip this portion because of the unapologetic gore. But I couldn’t. There were too many key plot points and homages to omit it. And so my journey continued into the longest chapter of the saga thus far (approximately forty-five minutes in length).
The chapter begins with The Bride’s narration as she informs viewers of O-Ren’s ascension to the head of the Yakuza (Japanese mafia). The Bride introduces us to three key members of O-Ren’s inner circle: Sophie Fatale (love that name), another former protégé of Bill’s and O-Ren’s best friend; Gogo, O-Ren’s seventeen year-old psycho (and I do mean psycho) schoolgirl bodyguard; and Johnny Mo, the general of O-Ren’s army, the Crazy 88s (played by the martial arts master Gordon Liu in the first of his two roles for the Kill Bill saga). As the Bride’s narrative reveals, not all of the Yakuza kingpins are happy about O-Ren’s rise to power. Especially considering her mixed heritage as half Chinese, half Japanese-American. Boss Tanaka makes the mistake of speaking ill of her “pedigree”; without a word, O-Ren dashes over to him and draws her sword, decapitating him in one efficient motion. As she sheathes her bloody blade, she addresses the remaining council members; they may have objections to her tactics, but they are NEVER to speak of her genetics in a negative manner. She dismisses them and she and her gang depart.
I liked how swiftly the introductions for the new characters were handled. We didn’t need their full life stories and Tarantino knew that. He gave us just enough info about each of them and then moved on to the issue at hand.
The next thing we see is O-Ren’s car surrounded by black motorcycles as it drives off toward its destination. Meanwhile the Bride’s plane from Okinawa is arriving in Tokyo as a frenetic, brassy tune that sounds like a cross between “The Flight of the Bumblebee” and the “Austin Powers Theme” on crack plays.
Once the Bride arrives in Tokyo, she dons a yellow leather biker suit with black stripes down the sides in an obvious and yet still very cool homage to Bruce Lee. 1 As the Bride is riding around Tokyo on her motorcycle (which matches her suit), she pulls up to a stoplight next to Sophie who, strangely, is in her car without ANY kind of Yakuza escort. The Bride immediately recognizes her from the wedding massacre (according to the flashback, Sophie didn’t participate, but she was standing around making cell phone calls like a Japanese school girl) and watches her closely for a moment (her face is hidden behind the visor of her helmet) before riding off just prior to the light changing to green.
My thoughts on this are that The Bride was reading her lips and she figured out where Sophie (and possibly O-Ren) would be going and decided to beat her there. As Sun Tzu explains in “The Art of War”, he or in this case she who occupies the field of battle first and awaits his or her enemy is at ease. Apparently, our heroine was just taking a page out of his book.
As O-Ren, Sophie, Gogo, and a handful of bodyguards arrive at House of Blue Leaves, we are treated to one of the coolest pieces of music I’ve ever heard. It’s called “Battle Without Honor or Humanity” and it was composed by Tomoyasu Hotei (whom some of you might know from “Samurai Fiction”). 2
Once O-Ren and Co. arrive, they are taken to what appears to be a VIP room in the club as the Bride watches from the bar. As she begins her approach, O-Ren senses something amiss and throws a shuriken of sorts. It hits a pillar that’s not more than a few inches from the Bride’s face. As Gogo comes out and examines the area, The Bride cleverly hides herself like the skilled assassin that she is. Gogo finishes her search and retrieves the shuriken before returning to the VIP room where the gang is goofing off and mocking their hosts. I noticed that the shuriken itself was another Bruce Lee homage. This time in reference to “Enter the Dragon”. The shuriken was the same type that a female character on Han’s island used to get the attention of Bruce Lee’s character. If you weren’t aware of it, it’s not like you would have been wondering what was going on, but it was a cool Easter egg for those that caught it.
Following that, Tarantino uses a long tracking shot to follow the Bride as she makes her way to the restroom. The camera then follows the proprietors of the club as they make their way from the kitchen to the VIP room that Sophie is leaving as she makes her way to the restroom –completely unaware that the Bride is there. The Bride hears Sophie’s distinct cell phone ring (Auld Lang Syne) and looks out of the stall. We hear the same “alarm music” that we first heard when The Bride encountered Copperhead at her home.
The next thing we see is the Bride calling O-Ren Ishii out as she holds Sophie at sword point. The Bride states her soon-to-be trademark line “We have unfinished business” in perfect Japanese as O-Ren’s henchmen come running out and stand ready for their Mistress. Upon her arrival, The Bride steps out from behind Sophie and both combatants know what is about to occur.
The Bride then severs Sophie’s arm and as she makes her way toward O-Ren, the club’s patrons and staff flee for their lives. The Bride makes short work of O-Ren’s six henchmen, showing off her magnificent sword in the process. And then Gogo (the psycho sailor scout) steps forward. She almost manages to kill the Bride with her buzzsaw ball and chain before the tables get turned . And just as the Bride has finished off Gogo and is advancing on O-Ren, the rest of her army arrives with Johnny Mo leading the charge.
Due to the amount of blood and gore that was shown, and the fact that Tarantino didn’t want to cut the fight scene in order to get an “R” rating, the film then turns from color to black and white as the Bride decimates O-Ren’s army. The battle is frenetic and chaotic but the music that plays during the scene is upbeat and fun. It provided another interesting contrast. At one point, we even see the classic Samurai film style of battle with silhouettes fighting against a colored grid backdrop.
As the battle draws to a close and the remaining members of the Crazy 88s are fleeing, the Bride grabs a young fellow and spanks him with the flat part of her blade, instructing him to go home to his mother. I couldn’t help laughing at this homage to Akira Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo”. In said film, Toshiro Mifune’s character, Sanjuro says the same thing to a young man who had left his parents to join up with one of the gangs in town. Needless to say, both young men followed the orders that were given to them.
As the surviving 88s flee, the Bride instructs them to take their lives with them, but leave the limbs that they’ve lost. And then she tells Sophie to stay put (which she does) before continuing on to O-Ren. The Bride finds a set of doors leading outside to a snow-covered garden where her adversary is waiting. The two women exchange a few words regarding the quality of our heroine’s instrument of death before beginning their battle. As they fight, a snappy Latin-styled tune is playing in the background and the initial fight choreography led me to think that the battle would play out one way. But then, O-Ren slashes the Bride across her back and the music stops. O-Ren continues teasing the Bride until the blonde assassin rises and tells her raven haired opponent to attack her with everything she has. O-Ren obliges and the Bride draws blood. O-Ren apologizes for ridiculing the Bride earlier (which the Bride accepts) and the two begin the battle anew. However this time, they face each other with respect. They may not like each other, but they recognize the level of swordsmanship that the other possesses. It was very interesting to see the mood of the battle change so radically and Tarantino conveyed the change beautifully.
Upon O-Ren’s death (you knew that was going to happen), the Bride sits and rests for a moment in the snow-covered garden. She knows she’s got a long way to go, but she’s just gotten a step closer to her goal and it was a nice change of pace. We then see her dumping Sophie off near a hospital. Sophie’s alive, but severely battered. And from there, the narrative jumps between Bill comforting Sophie after she’s been dumped off and the Bride ordering Sophie to inform Bill of everything that she just told the Bride.
Then we see the Bride on an airplane, presumably on her way back to the USA. As she prepares her hit list during the flight, we are once again treated to Sonny Chiba as Hattori Hanzo as he tells the Bride about the nature of revenge and how easy it is to get lost in it. Once I heard that, I saw the hit list as her idea for a map to get through the metaphorical forest of revenge. That way she won’t go in too deep–she’ll just deal with the five individuals who deserve their punishment the most. Of course only time will tell if she sticks to that list, but it was a very cool concept for Tarantino to offer up to his audience.
The camera then cuts to Sophie and Bill one last time as the titular character, whose face we have yet to see, drops a major narrative bomb. He asks Sophie if the Bride is aware that her daughter is still alive as the camera cuts to black. As much as I hate cliffhangers, I have to admit, that was an awesome surprise. And it definitely made me interested in seeing the next chapter/volume . Well played Tarantino, well played, indeed.
Edited by Tracy McCusker.
- As my colleague and aficionado of Eastern cinema Daniel Davis mentioned in one of his blog entries (on Genrebusters.com), Bruce Lee wore the yellow suit with black stripes for the film “Game of Death” in order to emphasize his bodily movements so that the camera could capture them on film easier. ↩
- To say it rocks is an understatement of biblical proportions. Mere words cannot describe the aural awesomeness that is this piece of music. It’s such a sweet audio composition that since its debut in this film, it’s been used in films like “Team America: World Police” and Michael Bay’s “Transformers”. Yes, it doth truly rock to the Nth degree. ↩