Lone Wolf and Cub – Baby Cart in Peril (AKA – 子連れ狼 親の心子の心 Kozure Ōkami: Oya no kokoro ko no kokoro, Shogun Assassin 3: Slashing Blades of Carnage): Ito’s latest contract is to assassinate a killer of many samurai, but to his surprise it’s a lady with outstanding short-blade skills, and in a similar situation to himself… Oyuki presents a very strong female lead, something that the previous movies have had – but not taken this seriously. The very first frame is a tattooed boob, so it starts off great! But soon after there’s a bit of silly magic (face mask magic guy), some sizable flashback sections, and a lot more talking than previous installments. However, as good as the story and premise are, the Babycart films are never better than their action set-pieces: with Wakayama hacking, slashing, and literally flying around the frame – he can’t half move around for a big bloke. The now customary ‘final battle’ with dozens of enemies and a few ‘bosses’ is also great, and for the first time we see him properly injured/vulnerable too. More than anything, the film is a little confused about who the baddie is: the girl? Her nemesis? Itto’s old foe? The big hairy guy? By the fourth movie it does feel a bit like more-of-the-same but the film still pushes the boundaries, and does well to set up the one-armed swordsman myth.
Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades Review
Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx Review
Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance Review
Yuuuuuup – that’s someone’s head that’s just been sliced in half!
Lone Wolf and Cub #2 – Babycart at the River Styx (AKA: 子連れ狼 三途の川の乳母車 and Kozure Ōkami: Sanzu no kawa no ubaguruma) – a disgraced executioner lives on the road with his son as a mercenary, avoiding about five assassination attempts per day. While it feels like more of the same, this film expands on much of the first outing – pushing the larger story forward, upping the action, and having even more stylish and poignant moments – like a slashed-up guy appreciating the sound of blood flying out from his neck. Shots like the sword dripping blood whilst tearing down a fusuma wall, and frozen bodies synchronously hitting the deck – are just fantastic to watch, pure cinema escapism, soaked in cool – it feels decades ahead of its time. Tomisaburo Wakayama further expands his role as the dangerous, effortless, perfectly timed slayer of baddies. This also pushed the boat out by having a crew of super-dangerous female ninjas – which isn’t seen too often in the genre. Simplified, it’s essentially about a guy that walks down a road, mows down some killers (baby sometimes mucks in) then carries on walking down the path – yet this film gets away with it because it’s got so many layers. The biggest disappointment is that all of the scenes filmed at night (around 60% of the film) are terrible and you can’t make out a thing for the most part. This film’s great, and I’d love to give it a 7 or 8 out-of-10, but because such a large chunk of it is just a black frame with something moving around in it, it’s often frustrating to watch.
Lone Wolf and Cub #1 – Sword of Vengeance (子連れ狼 子を貸し腕貸しつかまつる, or Kozure Ōkami: Kowokashi udekashi tsukamatsuru): when his wife is killed by ninjas and he is betrayed by a rival clan, the Shogun’s lead executioner becomes an assassin for hire, wondering the country with his infant son. The film opens with the lead character beheading a child… which lets you know exactly what to expect from the film, and what the lead, Itto Ogami is capable of. Despite this, being played so well by Tomisaburo Wakayama means that you still relate to, and feel for the character and his situation, as he transforms from obedient executioner, to a masterless badass – even if he’s out-of-shape. He is another one of Japan’s surprisingly complex – well acted – anti-heroes. The action scenes are second to none; heads literally roll across the screen, limbs fall to the ground, jets of blood spray everywhere – it’s completely over the top, yet so ridiculously stylish and meticulously planed; it was the first of the more extreme, exploitative Chambara movies. There’s also surprisingly good period detail for an out-and-out exploitation movie; the weirdest part however is that there’s a strangely high volume of scenes involving suckling on teats (OK, only two, but that’s still two more than most films). Sword of Vengeance is over 40 years old now, but it’s crammed full of everything that most modern exploitation films can’t even do right – the main difference is that it’s filmed by an absolute auteur – the film looks like art at times, which is a testament to the story’s manga roots.
NOTE: Some people will be familiar with this from the Shogun Assassin movie – which takes the bloodiest bits from the first two Lone Wolf and Cub films and mashes them together to create an even bloodier samurai slasher film aimed at Western audiences. That banned VIPCO vault of horror DVD was my first exposure to the series, and god was it brilliant.
Black Rain: a NYPD officer escorts a known Yakuza back to Japan; when the criminal escapes the mulleted cop must find him to prove his innocence, and serve up some justice-flavoured sushi! First off, this is a visual fantasy / offensively stereotypical Japan; there’s neon signs, neon trucks, neon clubs, neon everything (in Osaka there’s only a handful of streets lit like this), doesn’t matter though, it looks great. I’m also sure that not everyone in Japan is efficient with a katana, is a gangster, writes Kanji, wears traditional robes, or sings karaoke… but I’ll let that slide too. For the sake of equality Garcia plays a dumb, loud New York schmuck stereotype. Being a Ridley Scott flick, there’s a lot of manliness in every frame; motorbike races, fighting, broody man hero, all culminating in a laughable / ludicrous fight at the end. The one woman in the film is there purely to be lured at. Technically it’s good to watch, poppy/distracting visuals, despite ageing quite badly, but there are a few ill-judged scenes like the Garcia karaoke debacle. If you want a Japanese culture on steroids, ‘man film’, with motorbikes and a whole lotta mullet – this is the film for you! For being so highly regarded Black Rain is just feels like another terminally cheesy, typical 1980s, cop-out-of-water action flick – with a bit more budget than most.