Running time: 81 mins
Director: Buichi Saito
Starring: Tomisaburo Wakayama, Yoichi Hayashi, Michie Azuma, Akihiro Tomikawa
Genre: Action, Drama
When tattooed female assassin Oyuki (Azuma) swears vengeance against her Lord they turn to Ogami Itto and his services in order to see her dead before she runs rampant amongst their ranks but when things prove more complicated Itto finds himself with the odds stacked against him and only the loyalty of the blade to protect him.
Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril has the daunting title of being the first of the series not to be directed by Kenji Misumi. Stepping into the Japanese auteur’s sizable shoes is Buichi Saito (who would go on to direct nine episode of the Lone Wolf and Cub television series). It’s a big job, a potentially career damaging job should Saito screw up what is (until this point) an excellent trilogy but the Bloody Priest director with two decades of experience is able to not only advance a well grounded franchise but also add his own personal touch to proceedings. It’s an odd mix of good and bad changes to be honest, the biggest issue with Saito’s knew voice is the unnecessary and clunky narrator that sits over the top of the film. There are some occasions where the God narrator is beneficial to the story but for the most part (excluding Sunset Blvd and Fight Club for example) I find narration to be a cheap device to progress a narrative that the writer couldn’t do through exposition or characterisation. Narrator driven offerings like Desperate Housewives and Pushing Daisies are perfect examples of this. Why should you bother to watch the action unfold when you can be told how to feel and what to think? It sits even more uncomfortably as it’s the first film to carry it and it changes the overall feel of the movie. There’s also a few too many flashbacks in the film which are used in the exact same way as the narration and they’re unnecessary though Oyuki’s bubble flashback is not only beautifully artistic but incredibly stylish.
Saito brings some great stuff to the table too. The action is heavier, harder, significantly more choreographed and complex but most of all thrilling. Misumi’s action was always graceful and in a way a little relaxed, you could feel there was a three gear he wasn’t moving into and though it was thrilling you wanted more…more action…longer combative sequences. Saito gives the audience this in spades and it really helps with the story. Like the three previous films the story is simplistic, assassin walks through Japanese countryside, gets hired, gets identified, gets into fights, kills them all and that’s fine but there’s a little balance lacking in the script. Itto is our central character, we know him rather well and though there’s a flashback for his story it’s nothing we don’t already know. Itto is, in large parts, predominantly a device for furthering the narrative though it’s nice that Daigoro (Tomikawa) is given a little more to do and their father-son relationship is given moments in the sun.
Visually the film is beautiful. Misumi’s Sword of Vengeance is still the most beautiful and graceful of the movies but Saito’s Baby Cart in Peril runs it a close race and the fight in the cornfield mid storm is fine art with swords. There’s several other great sequences, bubble flashback for one, and the epic battle towards the end for another, the score is a little close to forty-second street funky. It’s amazing.
There’s three other reviews which focus on
Wakayama’s performance but it’s Michie Azuma
and Yoichi Hayashi that are outstanding in this film, and they need to be in
order for the entire film to work. Yes
Hayashi looks a little like a Japanese David Gest but he has a presence on
screen that draws the eye in, similarly Azuma has something about her portrayal
that’s incredible. She’s Itto’s mark,
she’s scheduled for assassination and therefore should be the bad guy but she’s
been subjected to such great violations that she’s the ultimate good of the
movie but not in a way that weakens her or makes you feel an unrealistic level
of sympathy for her. It's a dignified and powerful performance.
It’s frustrating that the narration and flashbacks are so heavy handed in Baby Cart in Peril because without them it could be one hell of a brilliant samurai movie. Saito has cast aside Misumi’s comparative fixations and the subtle set pieces in favour for an action/drama rather than a drama with action and is one of the few truly great sequels in cinematic history because of it.