Saturday, April 25, 2020

Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades

Based on the manga series by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima, Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades is the third film of the series in which the father/son duo who continue their journey through Japan as the former saves a prostitute from humiliation after killing her client as he would do a job for the yakuza to kill a governor. Directed by Kenji Misumi and screenplay by Kazuo Koike, the film explore the father/son duo as they deal with an unruly world as well as a growing sense of corruption that would involve the Yakuza and other factions as Itto Ogami/Lone Wolf and Daigoro/Cub are reprised respectively by Tomisaburo Wakayama and Akihiro Tomikawa. Also starring Go Kato, Yuko Hama, Isao Yamagata, and Michitaro Mizushima. Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades is a ravishing and evocative film from Kenji Misumi.

The film follows a father-son duo as they continue their journey through Edo-era Japan as they remain in pursuit of the clan who had disgraced him as he would encounter a lowly group of samurai warriors and later a yakuza who was about to punish a prostitute for killing a client as he is later asked by the yakuza leader to kill a power-hungry governor. It’s a film that play into Itto Ogami and his son Daigoro as they encounter a sense of unruliness around them as the lowly group of samurai warriors would rape a couple of women only to be taken care of by their leader Kanbei (Go Kato) who is revealed to be a man with a sense of honor. This idea of code and honor would continue after Ogami chooses to protect a prostitute he and Daigoro met on a boat early in the film as the yakuza leader in Torizo (Yuko Hama) is amazed by taking all sorts of physical and mental torture for this prostitute as she learns about his true identity. Kazuo Koike’s script is largely straightforward while it does feature some flashbacks as it relates to the governor Sawatari Genba (Isao Yamagata) who is eager to win the favor of Ogami’s enemies.

Kenji Misumi’s direction does maintain a sense of style from its previous films while he also restrains some of the violence though images of dismembered body parts, blood sprays, and such still are shown in the film. Yet, Misumi does showcase this air of chaos and discontent in the way a young woman and her mother are raped by a gang of lowly samurai warriors or how the prostitute is mistreated by her client. Shot in various rural locations in Japan, Misumi does use the locations as characters in the film from the bamboo forest early in the film where Ogami disposes a trio of ninjas while the scene in the desert hill serves as the climax between Ogami and the governor’s army. The usage of the wide shots don’t just play into the scope of the locations but also in how Daigoro would place himself on a spot to get someone’s attention or just to get a view of what he’s seeing whenever his father is about to attack.

With the aid of fight choreographer Eiichi Kusumoto, Misumi’s approach to the fighting is more restrained as it’s more about who makes the first move as well as a sense of respect during duels as it’s something both Torizo and Kanbei have believing there’s still some semblance of honor despite the former’s lack of belief towards codes with her yakuza. Misumi’s close-ups and medium shots help play into the drama and air of suspense as well as these stylish flashbacks as it relates to the governor that Ogami is hired to kill. Its climax doesn’t just play into this growing disconnect over thirst of power and honor but also the idea of what a samurai really is as it’s something both Ogami and Kanbei are asking. Overall, Misumi crafts a rapturous yet chilling film about a father-son duo who trek through Japan as they encounter unruliness in their path.

Cinematographer Chikashi Makiura does incredible work with the film’s cinematography with its gorgeous usage of natural lights for many of the daytime exteriors while the nighttime scenes feature lighting by Hiroshi Mima who help provide a low-key look to the film along with the flashbacks which were shot in black-and-white. Editor Toshio Taniguchi does excellent work with the editing as its emphasis on style in the jump-cuts, dissolves, and other stylish cuts help play into the action as well as the suspense and drama where things do slow down to play more into emotional reactions than action. Production designer Yoshinobu Nishioka does amazing work with the look of the yakuza’s main base including an inn that they run as well as the lavish home of the governor. The makeup work of Hideo Yumoto and Toshio Tanaka do terrific work with the look of a few characters from the one-armed man hiding in Torizo’s closet to the ragged look of Kanbei’s gang.

The special stunt effects by Daizen Shishido is amazing for some of the action that occurs including scenes that involve aerial attacks from ninjas and samurais as it help play into the action. The sound work of Tsuchitaro Hayashi, with sound effects by Toru Kurashima, is superb for the atmosphere of the locations as well as sounds of gunfire, swords, and arrows that occur during battle. The film’s music by Hideaki Sakurai is phenomenal for its array of themes from a Western-like theme for the main characters with its guitars and strings as well as percussive-based music for its suspense and sounds of strings and warbling synthesizers for the film’s climatic battle.

The film’s wonderful ensemble cast feature some notable small roles from Jun Hamamura as the one-armed retainer that Torizo had been hiding that Ogami knew, Sayoko Kato as the prostitute that Ogami and Daigoro protects, Michitaro Mizushima as a former aide of Governor Genba from the film’s flashbacks, and Isao Yamagata as the power-hungry Sawatari Genba who is hoping to gain the favor of the shogunate and his clan upon learning about Ogami whom he realizes is a threat. Yuko Hamada is excellent as the yakuza leader Torizo as a woman who learns about Ogami’s true identity as she sees someone that she respects as well as asking for help as it relates to the governor whom she despises. Go Kato is amazing as Kanbei as a leader of a ragged group of lowly samurai warriors who encounters Ogami early in the film as he is aware of who he is as they would later meet where Kanbei is a man of respect and honor as he is trying to answer the question of identity and being a true samurai.

Finally, there’s the duo of Akihiro Tomikawa and Tomisaburo Wakayama in their respective roles as Diagoro and Ogami Itto with the former as the young boy who observes everything around him while often luring warriors into traps as well as be the one to bring kindness to the prostitute. The latter showcases more restraint as a man still haunted by loss yet is still keen on his path towards Hell where he deals with a sense of unruliness around him while surprised to find that there are those who do have some kind of honor as it is a rapturous performance from Wakayama.

Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades is a sensational film from Kenji Misumi. Featuring a great ensemble cast, dazzling visuals, stylish action sequences, and a chilling music score, the film is definitely an exhilarating samurai-adventure film that isn’t just filled with lots of action but also drama and suspense. In the end, Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades is a phenomenal film from Kenji Misumi.

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© thevoid99 2020


keith71_98 said...

This sounds really compelling. I wasn't familiar with it but now I'll keep my eye out for it.

thevoid99 said...

@keith71_98-There's six films in the series as I've already finished half the series so far. I might do one more this month and then finish the rest via torrent as TCM was supposed to show all six films but changed their schedule to only show four of the six films. It's a great series so far.