Sunday, July 17, 2011

REVIEW: Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril

子連れ狼 親の心子の心 (Kozure Ōkami: Oya no kokoro ko no kokoro)

Released: 1972

Buichi Saito

Tomisaburo Wakayama
Michie Azuma
Akihiro Tomikawa
Tatsuo Endo
Yoichi Hayashi

Running time: 81 min.

Reviewed by David Lam

Everyone’s favorite wandering, baby cart pushing assassin is back for “Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril”, the fourth installment in the series. It follows the familiar path of its predecessors by providing a generous amount of mayhem, exposition and of course, nudity. What does set this film apart from the rest in the series is that director Buichi Saito is able to take all those familiar elements and integrate them into the story in a new and exciting way.

The story begins with Oyuki (Michie Azuma), a mysterious female assassin being surrounded by swordsmen sent out to kill her. As she efficiently takes them out one by one, it is revealed that she’s heavy tattooed. On her chest she has an image of a kintarō grasping her breast, while her back is adorned with an elaborate portrait of a mountain witch. What Do the tattoos mean and what does it have to do with Ogami Ittō (Tomisaburo Wakayama)? Well, he’s hired to bring this femme fatale down, but first he has to track down the artist responsible for her tattoos. He manages to find the tattoo artist and promptly interrogates him about her whereabouts. While this is happening, Ogami’s cute as a button son Daigoro (Akihiro Tomikawa) wanders off and becomes separated from his father. The story diverges temporarily and we follow Daigoro as he roams the village and eventually comes into contact with Gunbei Yagyū (Yoichi Hayashi), a rival of his father and the exiled son of Retsudo Yagyū (Tatsuo Endô). Through flashback, we come to learn that both Gunbei and Ogami were both being considered for the post of shogun's executioner and it all came down to a duel. In Gunbei’s mind he won the fight by disarming Ogami, but it is revealed that Gunbei lost the post to Ogami because he became too blindsided with trying to defeat Ogami and neglected to think of the Shogun’s safety. I am being deliberately vague with the plot details because the intricate story that unfolds is so full of intrigue and dramatic turns that it would be a crime to spoil it.

“Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril” is one of the best of the series. At its center is an engaging story that’s thought-provoking and entertaining at the same time. Director Buichi Saito deserves a lot of credit for bringing a fresh take to the material. The ambush scene in an abandoned temple is perfectly staged and executed. It features Ogami and Daigoro being surrounded by Buddhist sculptures that are actually assassins in disguise. The makeup is fantastic and the battle that ensues is definitely one of the goriest of the series. Then there’s the epic showdown at the end where Ogami takes on an entire clan. It’s fast, bloody, and chaotic but easy to follow and makes great use of the landscape.

Another thing that jumps out at you when watching the film is the lighting. Often to create a sense of tension, in pivotal scenes, Saito shoots his actors in close-ups against a dark backdrop so that the only thing that’s visible is the actor’s face. It’s a dramatic visual trick that’s reminiscent of Noh theatre and looks absolutely striking onscreen.

Every time I watch a “Lone Wolf and Cub” film I prepare myself for it to be bad. It’s just too difficult to keep the momentum of the story going with so many installments. To my surprise though, the films just get better and better, each having its only feel and look. Needless to say, I’m eagerly looking forward to the next one.

Read more by David Lam at his blog


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