The plot is nonlinear jumping from present to past this is a linear plot in chronological order
In 1874, an deathly-ill woman named Sayo gives birth to a baby girl in a womens' prison. Naming the child Yuki from seeing the snow outside, Sayo confided to the inmates who helped deliver the baby how she was brutally raped by three of the four criminals who murdered her husband Tora and their son Shiro a year ago. While she managed to stab her captor Shokei Tokuichi to death when the chance presented itself, she was arrested and imprisoned for life. Sayo seduced a prison guard to conceive Yuki, her final words before for the child to be raised to carry out the vengeance against the three remaining tormentors. In Meiji 15 (1882), the child Yuki undergoes brutal training in sword fighting under the priest Dōkai to become her mother's wrath incarnate.
Yuki, now twenty and an assassin going by the name Shurayuki-hime, blocks the path of several men and a rickshaw and kills them and their leader Shibayama using a sword concealed in the handle of an umbrella. Yuki appears in a poor village looking for a man called Matsuemon, the leader of an underground organization of street beggars, and asks him to find her mother's surviving tormentors in return of having killed Shibayama for him. Matsuemon's intel leads her to Takemura Banzō, who became an alcoholic wreck with gambling debts while his daughter Kobue took to prostitution to support him. After convincing the gambling house's owners to pardon Banzō after he was caught cheating in a card game, Yuki leads him to the beach and remorselessly kills him after revealing her identity. Yuki then learns that the last of her mother's rapists, Tsukamoto Gishirō, had suspiciously died in a ship wreck three years prior when she first attempted to find him.
After attacking Gishirō's tombstone in frustration, Yuki finds herself being followed by a reporter named Ryūrei Ashio whom she warned to stay away from her. However, Ashio learned of Yuki's story from Dōkai who told persuaded him to publish it as a means to draw one the last of Sayo's tormentors who personally murdered Shiro: Kitahama Okono. Okono sends men to kidnap Ashio, threatening him with torture for Yuki's location as he refuses to tell them. But Yuki enters Okono's estate and kills several of Okono's men while pursing Okono throughout the estate. Eventually, Yuki and Ryūrei finds Okono's dying body hanging within a room with Yuki slicing Okono in half before her heart can stop beating.
Yuki learns from Ashio that Gishirō, revealed to be Ashio's father, had faked his death when he learned of Yuki's mission. She finds Gishirō at a masquerade ball and kills what she realized is his decoy. Ashio and Yuki find and follow the real Gishirō, who shoots Ashio. Wounded, Ashio grapples with Gishirō and stops him from shooting Yuki as she swings on a lamp between balconies. Yuki stabs through Ashio into Gishirō's chest. She then cuts Gishirō's throat as he shoots her, falls over a railing and onto the ground floor full of guests. Yuki, wounded, stumbles outside where is stabbed by a revenge-driven Kobue before she runs off. Yuki falls on her face in the snow, awakening the following morning.
The film was produced on a low budget and filmed with a minimal length of film (20,000 feet). At one point, a special effect blood spatter went wrong, covering Meiko Kaji in fake blood.
Lady Snowblood was released in Japan on December 1, 1973, where it was distributed by Toho.
Both Lady Snowblood films are now available in a restored Blu-ray edition from The Criterion Collection.
The film spawned one sequel, Love Song of Vengeance. A 2001 science fiction remake, The Princess Blade, stars Yumiko Shaku.
It was also a major inspiration for Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill. According to Meiko Kaji, Tarantino made the cast and crew of Kill Bill watch DVDs of Lady Snowblood during filming breaks.