Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades

Certificate: 18
Running time: 89 mins
Director: Kenji Misumi
Starring: Tomisaburo Wakayama, Michitaro Mizushima, Akihiro Tomikawa
Genre: Action, Drama
Country: Japan

It’s the third time out for Itto and Daigoro as Baby Cart at Hades sees the former Shogun Assassin turned soldier of fortune sacrifice everything in order to save a woman of ill-repute and kill a corrupt Chamberlain whose blood lust and demand for power has seen many honourable men and women killed in his name.

In the review for Sword of Vengeance we touched on the comparisons between the samurai film and the American Western and a cinematic ethos that runs through both genres regardless of language or culture.  Of the three Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades has the strongest thematic links as Itto stands alone, effectively, against a corrupt “sheriff” and takes on an army (at one point literally) of “bandits” in his fight for justice.  The Lone Wolf and Cub films have evolved since Misumi’s first.  In the beginning the action was lyrical, almost beautiful in composition and execution, by the second this had morphed into a calculating hardness and here it takes on a scale that the films have yet to see.

Itto was always the most skilled man on screen.  Rarely do you actually believe he’s in physical danger, it should be an issue but all too often you’re wowed by the level of professionalism in his sword work to really formulate the constructive criticism but it’s clear that Misumi has seen the issues, perhaps heard the criticisms, and reacted.  With the increase in scale comes a heightened level of awe in the combat.  Knowing there are six films, and this is the third you’ll be forgiven for never really worrying about our hero surviving but to Misumi’s credit he has stacked the odds so heavily against the protagonist that a gasp and ponder how he’ll make it out of it alive is in order.  Yet it’s never done to the level that it becomes cartoony, contrived or delivers you a blow to your sensory perceiver (unlike some Western directors who dabble in the genre).  It’s to Misumi’s credit that this is achieved and that the bonds between the samurai and the gunslinger is strengthened, strengthened to the point where one of Itto’s key adversaries in the film prefers to work with two six shooters rather than a sword.  Similarly Itto’s one man battle against Itakura’s army is everything that The Wild Bunch, A Fistful of Dynamite and Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid is but somehow even more thrilling.  The use of the camera is wonderful throughout the film as at times it leads the protagonist and audience, at others it simply captures it but through it engages and demands participation from the viewer and somehow during all this still manages to maintain it's beauty.

The films have always carried a degree of ingenuity with the combative moments and Baby Cart at Hades is no exception; the use of Daigoro’s cart in the battle sequence is extremely impressive but it’s more than that.  It’s the interrogation sequences, which are intense and unflinching and most impressively it’s the construction of the narrative as the film binds itself to the previous two in ways that allow it to be viewed both as part of a series and as a stand alone piece of cinema.

Wakayama is hard edged, as Itto, he’s physically powerful and well proven from the previous two films.  Michitaro Mizushima (as Itakura) delivers a menacing performance without being panto.  He’s a man who is dangerous because of those around him, rather than because of himself and in being that kind of man give Ogami Itto someone to be wary of and it works.  The conversation when Itakura is attempting to hire Itto is populated with tension, long stares (made famous in both samurai and gunslinger films) and moments loaded with stillness.  Saburo Date (as the Swift-style samurai) is excellent and his screen time, though shot, is powerful because of his interactions with Itto and showcase an integrity you did not expect from him, after his first impression earlier.

Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades is a much better balanced film than Baby Cart at the River Styx.  The action sequences are bigger, they grow from Itto’s battle in the sand dunes with the Hidari brothers and introduce the potential threat of Itto’s death (something which was missing in Styx) and in that it has become a lot more accessible.  Granted some of the “baddies” are a little black and white, though they never last long and are largely there to service the narrative but most of the characters are strong, the narrative powerful and the artistic credibility ever present.  A fine and fierce adaptation.














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