“The young girl in the schoolgirl uniform is O-Ren's personal bodyguard, 17-year-old Gogo Yubari,” The Bride tells us via narration in Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003). “Gogo may be young, but what she lacks in age, she makes up for in madness.” The final descriptor – mad – is punctuated with a slow, subtle, but none-the-less evil smile from Gogo. Throughout the duration of Quentin Tarantino’s revenge epic, we see her perform numerous ‘evil’ acts depending on your perspective: from butchering a paedophilic Tokyo businessman to attempting to kill our protagonist, The Bride (Uma Thurman). Yet it’s this gesture - which has become the go-to reaction gif for Gogo – that encapsulates both her sinister nature and sly intelligence.
Yes, like most of the characters we meet in both volumes of Kill Bill, Gogo doesn’t live to see the end credits. She is, however, arguably the character that comes closest to killing The Bride: not Bill, not Budd, not Elle Driver, not Vernita Green, not Gogo’s boss O-Ren Ishii or any member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. It’s this teenage killer dressed in a school uniform so that her enemies underestimate her that nearly accomplishes their task in Chapter 5: Showdown at House Of Blue Leaves. While the bodies of the Crazy 88’s pile up as they take on The Bride with her weapon of choice – the infamous katana crafted by Hattori Hanzo – it’s Gogo who forces her to fight in a different discipline, a discipline that she’s not a master in. Utilising the meteor hammer, Gogo’s strategy forces our heroine to be in defensive mode for the duration of their battle until - by chance - The Bride is able to perform the killing blow with a nail-exposed plank of wood nearby in what we’re to think may have been her dying moments.
In a cast full of unique and memorable scene-stealing characters, Tarantino cast model, actress and singer Chiaki Kuriyama to be the scene steal-iest of them all as Gogo Yubari. It was her Hollywood debut, yet to many international audiences she was a familiar face largely for her role in Battle Royale (2000). A movie adaptation based on the novel of the same name, it’s one of Tarantino’s favourite films and features many elements often seen in his own work. The plot follows students who are ordered to fight to the death with increasingly brutal and bloody methods in a dystopian future. Kuriyama’s casting was a way to wink at not just the film but her role specifically, with Gogo and Battle Royale’s Takako both schoolgirls forced to resort to violent means (and who ultimately have violent ends). It’s such an overt subversion of specific cultural tropes, that it’s no surprise the legacy of Gogo as a character has lived on even though Kuriyama’s career has stayed firmly within the international market. The Bride is correct: Gogo has significant “madness” running through her veins but she also has cunning and cleverness. The fact that both can be captured in a single gesture through Kuriyama’s performance and Tarantino’s direction of it is an example of Kill Bill’s rare ability to show and tell in those integral moments.
– Maria Lewis