Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx

Certificate: 18
Running time: 95 mins
Director: Kenji Misumi
Starring: Tomisaburo Wakayama, Minoru Oki, Shin Kishida
Genre: Action, Drama
Country: Japan

Seconds out, round two and this time Ogami Itto (Wakayama) takes on a group of female ninjas who are in the pocket of the Yagyu clan and all the while trying to prevent a rogue member from selling the secrets of the Shogunate to the highest bidder.

Misumi didn’t waste any time at all, hot on the successful heels of Sword of Vengeance, Baby Cart at the River Styx came out the same year.  You’d think that there’d be a lowering in production value but you’d be wrong.  Narratively the film is as strong as LWAC: SOV, unsurprisingly as the Manga adaptations have a wealth of source material at their disposal.  The feel of the film is slightly different to that of Sword of Vengeance, visually the set pieces are a strong as the first film but there’s a harder edge to sequel’s cinematography.  Though they are still wonderfully, and artistically constructed it’s got a hardened side that mirrors our hero.  Several of the fights, including that amazingly shot dune battle with the Hidari brothers is lyrical but grounded, earthy and a lot less flighty.  Similarly the combative scenes in the Japanese countryside between Itto and the female ninjas have a rawness that’s pushing the visual palette of the film through an emotional evolutionary process that makes perfect sense.

Wakayama (as Ogami Itto) is again wonderful, his character is a little more two dimensional than in Sword of Vengeance, understandably so being that so much of his characterisation was dealt with during the first film.  He still has an integrity to his acting though his presence on screen mirrors Misumi’s cinematography as his weariness is evident and, in it’s own way, tragic.  You don’t want him to have so much thrust upon his shoulders to deal with…but it is.  Akihiro Tomikawa (as Little Daigoro) has slightly more to do than previous and has several on screen moments to himself that showcases the growing confidence of the young performer and the promise of more to come.  He has, through no fault of his own, become the target for Itto’s enemies and demonstrates a calm understanding of this on screen.  The female assassins, Awa (Ichitaro Kuni) especially is an intriguing character and one that burns slowly throughout the film.  Scene stealers are the brothers Hidari.  Typical really as you wait for one and then three come along at once.  The pace of the second half of the film belongs to them, they push the narrative as much as Itto and the desert sequence with the raiders to visually striking and powerful.

Though not as striking as Sword of Vengeance, Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx is a strong and powerful piece of cinema.  Sequels are tough, sequels to excellent films are even tougher and it’s a double edged sword for a sequel to attempt to push ahead and evolve away from the premise of it’s spawner but Baby Cart achieves that.  An entertaining of distinct piece of samurai cinema.


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