Sunday, August 7, 2011

REVIEW: Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Land of Demons

子連れ狼 冥府魔道 (Kozure Ōkami: Meifumando)

Released: 1973

Kenji Misumi


Tomisaburo Wakayama
Michiyo Ohkusu
Akihiro Tomikawa
Shingo Yamashiro
Akira Yamauchi

Running Time: 89 min

Reviewed by David Lam

“Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Land of Demons” is the fifth film of a six part series. Once again, the focus is on Ogami Ittō (Tomisaburo Wakayama) and son Daigoro (Akihiro Tomikawa) embarking on the perilous road to vengeance. Seeing as this is the penultimate film to the series, the central mystery is expanded upon and various loose ends are tightened up.

Former Shōgun's executioner Ogami Ittō and his son Daigoro are approached by a mysterious member of a disgrace clan looking to hire the duo to foil the plans of a sinister monk and restore honor to the clan. However, before he embarks on the mission, he needs to prove his skills to the five members of the clan to show his worth. Ogami’s usual fee is 500 gold pieces and the deal is he will collect 100 gold pieces from each clan member he defeats. Aside from the 100 gold pieces, they will also offer him details on his mission. Ogami accepts the offer and proceeds to take down one member at a time. While this is going on, Daigoro manages to become separated from his father (again!) and gets himself into trouble when he encounters a notorious female pickpocket. She hands him a stolen wallet while being pursued by some angry court officials. Daigoro is caught with the wallet and deemed an accomplice and is publicly flogged to force the pickpocket to show herself. Being the tough as nail kid that he is, Daigoro refuses to give up the identity of the perpetrator, even if it means he gets the lashing of his life.

The story starts with an intriguing premise where not only does Ogami has to assassinate a revered monk and retrieve a sacred scroll, he has to take down five members of the clan before he can do so. Watching each member provide him with a piece to the puzzle as they meet their demise puts a fresh spin on things. My only gripe is that the duels between Ogami and each clan member are so similar in execution that it becomes redundant to watch. The clan members are undistinguishable from one another and really have nothing to do other than expound exposition while being promptly eviscerated by Ogami’s blade. Another problem with this instalment is the side story involving Daigoro. While his encounter with a female pickpocket is mildly entertaining on its own, you can’t help but want the film to get back on track with the central story. Also, this being a Lone Wolf and Cub film, the story is presented in a way that doesn’t talk down to the audience. This is both a good and bad thing; the story unfolds with many twists and turns and keeps the viewer watching. As a result, the story can seem exposition heavy and is hard to understand what exactly is going on at times.

Director Kenji Misumi takes a more atmospheric approach to the series. Scenes unfold in a languid pace and the sense of dread is enhanced with the fact that there’s no score for the majority of film. Even Tomisaburo Wakayama’s trademark deep growl takes a back seat this time around. Instead, what Misumi does is he allows his camera to linger on Wakayama’s expressive face. Also, just because things start off slowly doesn’t mean this film is devoid of bloodshed. Misumi wisely saves the action for the end, and boy does he deliver. He builds up the action and lets it all cumulate in a rousing end battle. By the end, this film rivals its predecessors in the bloodletting and body count department.

“Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Land of Demons” isn’t the best of the series but it’s pretty damn great. The directing is assured and exciting and the story works both as a standalone feature and setup piece for the final installment of the series.

Read more by David Lam at his blog

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