Running Time: 89 minutes
Director: Kenji Misumi
Starring: Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa, Michiyo Ohkusu
Genre: Action, Drama
Kenji Misumi’s back, gone is Buichi Saito and his disconcerting narrator as Ogami is pitted against a mad Daimyo who is determined to destroy the lone wolf’s former clan. In order to stop him the assassin must face off against five different warriors, each with their own strengths in order to obtain the fifth of the information each hold and he needs. As Ogami gets closer to his goal a bloodline coup becomes obvious.
Lone Wolf and Cub is a pretty well trodden, well tested formula. Kenji Misumi’s return behind the lens of the franchise which he is, arguably, the most responsible can therefore be seen as either liberation of his diary or an admission by the film’s producers that they took the wrong direction and are attempting to correct it. For what it’s worth, personally, it must be the former as Saito’s sensibilities (with the exception of the narration) were an exciting and interesting change of pace for the LWAC structure. Misumi is, of course, masterful in both the genre and the film franchise, he occupies the world like a second skin but his return though welcoming simply goes to highlight the almost formulaic nature of proceedings.
Narratively Lone Wolf and Cub has fallen into a rhythm of mission, arterial spray, walking, spray, exposition, spray, fade out. On paper the script was never going to hold much water but it’s lacking a freshness that certainly Sword of Vengeance had in the genre and even the freshness that Baby Cart in Peril offered up. There’s also a considerable shift a foot. It won’t present itself entirely in Baby Cart in the Land of the Demons, rather saving itself for the final chapter White Heaven in Hell but the first tentative steps towards a more supernatural, spiritual, superstitious Lone Wolf and Cub begins with the representation of the five warriors which Ogami must defeat. It’s this one foot in one foot out approach to the well known, and grounded world the previous films have existed in while trying to move towards a more spiritually “realistic” narrative that ultimately hurts the film as it is neither one nor the other.
The complaints about the narrative seem cruel as there are other films out there you can turn to for complex and engaging scripts. Lone Wolf and Cub has always and will always be a film franchise that looks better than it reads and with Misumi behind the camera you get that lyrical, poetic beautiful of the colour palette and framing of shot back. It’s graceful and elegant and contradictory to the acts which it depicts. It’s wonderful. Misumi has also seemingly lifted the gauntlet thrown down by Buichi Saito as the action sequences of Baby Cart in the Land of the Demons are a lot more complex and the combative sequences, largely towards the end of the film, don’t have Itto despatch his enemies quite so quickly. It’s better paced, more satisfying and of course bloody. The set piece in the Lord’s house is truly impressive, a master class in close quarters combat and film making alike.
Akihiro Tomikawa (as Daigoro) is impressive in this film. Cinematically we’ve been with a lot longer than the years he’s had to grow up let alone on screen but grow he has (on screen at least). There’ll be more to do with White Heaven in Hell but there are several sequences in which you see not just the man he’s destined to be but also the man he’s been moulded by. This is an innocent child who has been confronted by and exposed to some of the most horrifying scenes anyone would ever be likely to see and it has hardened him. He holds himself like
Wakayama (his on screen
father) and it’s only a matter of time before he’s as capable as his father, as
he already manages to hold the camera’s gaze.
This is a part of the narrative that I wish they would focus on, he’s a
mini killing machine in the making and make no mistake about it, he has been
Yes it’s beginning to feel a little tired. Narratively Baby Cart in the Land of the Demons is more of a transition movie as Kenji Misumi and clan position themselves for an inventive and exhilarating ending as Sword of Vengeance was a beginning, but there’s also good in it. Visually it’s as powerful and beautiful as it’s ever been, the soundtrack demands audience involvement and there are some incredibly strong and subtle performances from the Lone Wolf and his Cub but most of all it’s the standard that needs to be remarked upon. This is the fourth sequel (released in 1973) to a film that came out in April of the previous year. How many
Hollywood sequels are anywhere near this level of skill,
intensity, entertainment? Five movies in
two years is an impressive feat, but five extremely good movies in two years speaks to
the talents of the director, cast and the source material.