Sunday, June 26, 2011

REVIEW: Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance

子連れ狼 子を貸し腕貸しつかまつる (Kozure Okami: Kowokashi udekashi tsukamatsuru)

Released: 1972

Director:
Kenji Misumi

Starring:
Tomisaburo Wakayama
Fumio Watanabe
Tomoko Mayama
Shigeru Tsuyuguchi
Akihiro Tomikawa

Running time: 83 min.

Reviewed by David Lam


“Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance” is the first of a series of films based on the influential “Lone Wolf and Cub” manga series. It faithfully takes writer Kazuo Koike and artist Goseki Kojima’s tale about a court executioner who becomes a sword for hire after being framed for treason and successfully transposes it to the big screen. Tomisaburo Wakayama stars as Ogami Ittō the indomitable rogue assassin who embarks on the road to vengeance while accompanied by his son Daigoro.

The story unfolds with Ogami Ittō and son wandering through desolate town after desolate town looking for work. What has led them on this road is slowly revealed through a series of flashbacks. We are shown Ogami Ittō in his glory days as an executioner for The Shogun. He carries out his duty in a cold and reserve way, not even blinking an eye when he’s ordered to take the head of a child. Things get more complicated when the Yagyu Shadow Clan devise a plan to rob Ogami of his post by setting him up. They murder his wife and plant evidence in his shrine to portray him as a traitor. It is at this point that swords are drawn and the bloodshed begins.

As an origin story, “Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance” is incredibly satisfying. Though at times confusing, the filmmakers do a well enough job in giving you the back story of Ogami Ittō and setting the tone for the rest of the series. It’s basically one big revenge story intercut with the various “jobs” that Ogami takes on as he moves from town to town. As a result we get a generous offering of swordplay, rape and bloodletting. The flashback structure works well because it interrupts the violence temporary with quiet moments that reveal the inner workings of an impenetrable man. There’s a wonderful scene in which Ogami recalls the moment in which he gives Daigoro the choice between a ball or a sword. The scene is impactful because we as the audience know what is at stake with each decision. As 70s samurai movies goes, this one stands out for not only how beautifully choreographed the action is but also for how thoughtful it is. The story takes it time to unfold, building suspense and intrigue as it moves along.

Tomisaburo Wakayama owns it as the avenging assassin with the coldest stare in cinematic history. He’s a man of few words, quite often silently staring off into space as he slices and dices his way through an entire army. Aside from the eyes, what makes Wakayama such a badass is his imposing stature. Every time he’s onscreen, he commands your attention. He’s wields his sword with such bravado that you understand why his enemies tremble in fear when they hear his name.

Director Kenji Misumi keeps the swordplay swift and brutal in his film. He punctuates the visceral nature of the violence with silence and gushes of blood. Not only does Misumi show that he has a knack for action but he also possesses an eye for colour as well. In a pivotal scene, Ogami is clad almost entirely in white and as he adroitly slices pass each clan member, his garb becomes more and more drenched in vibrant red. It’s a beautiful visual trope that makes a striking impact. Aside from the action, Mitsumi also experiments with some flashy editing and audacious overlay techniques to liven things up.

“Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance” is a rollicking good time that entices you with exceedingly bloody action and an intriguing story of betrayal and vengeance. Oh did I mention the kid that plays Daigoro is unbelievably cute. So there you go, if you haven’t seen it, what are you waiting for?

Read more by David Lam at his blog

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