Based on the manga series by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima, Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in the Land of Demons is the fifth film of the series where the father-son duo continue their deadly trek through Japan as they face off against five skilled assassins each carrying information as well a fifth of the fee. Directed by Kenji Misumi and screenplay by Kazuo Koike and Tsutomu Nakamura, the film explore the father/son duo as they each encounter five different challenges as it play into their spiritual journey as it eventually lead to their final path for vengeance as Ogami Itto and Daigoro are once again portrayed respectively by Tomisaburo Wakayama and Akihiro Tomikawa. Also starring Michio Okusu and Shingo Yamashiro. Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in the Land of Demons is an eerie yet evocative film from Kenji Misumi.
The film follows a father-son duo who continue their trek towards Hell through rural Japan as they’re approached by five skilled assassins who each offer information as well as a fee for the man to kill an abbot with an important letter relating to their clan leader. It’s a film with a simple premise with its screenplay having an odd structure where the first act has Ogami facing off against five different assassins who carry a fifth of the fee that Ogami is given to kill someone but also information of his task. The second act has Ogami learning of what is at stake and who the abbot is delivering to which only complicates this mission he has to take part in. The script also has Daigoro go into an adventure of his own where he encounters a pickpocket (Tomomi Sato) and manages to help her as it play into his own bravery while the third act is about the mission but also revelations about the contents of the letter.
Kenji Misumi’s direction is definitely full of wondrous visuals as well as action set pieces that are intense and riveting. Shot on various locations in rural Japan as well as beaches and deserts, Misumi plays into this ongoing journey that Ogami and Daigoro have continue to embark on where they deal with these five different assassins who each provide a different skill but also carry a message and beaded necklaces for Ogami to wear after each confrontation. Misumi’s compositions do have some style in the wide and medium shots where it’s not just for the locations but also in the setting as it includes a world that is thriving but also with a sense of chaos. Notably in Daigoro’s encounter with a pickpocket where Daigoro gets himself in trouble but the authority is moved by his bravery as does the pickpocket. Misumi’s usage of the close-ups add to some of the suspense and drama as well as the stakes of what Ogami has to deal with.
With the aid of fight choreographer Eiichi Kusumoto, Misumi does maintain that sense of energy in the action and fights while there is that sense of honor and pride that Ogami carries as well as some of the assassins he faces who are all aware of Ogami’s reputation. Even as they warn Ogami of the forces he’s dealing with that include the forces that are protecting the abbot but also those who are counting on him to succeed in killing him. The third act is about the task and what is at stake as it would involve those going after Ogami but also the clan that Ogami is working for where it is clear that not everything is black-and-white. Especially with the latter into what is at stake as well as the presence of a woman who claims to be the mistress of the clan lord as she knows what is at stake as it relates to thins that the clan lord doesn’t want the world to know. Overall, Misumi crafts a gripping and intoxicating film about an assassin and his son trekking through Japan as they carry out an assassination mission with huge implications.
Cinematographer Fujio Morita does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with its usage of natural lighting to capture some of the lush colors of the locations with some low-key lighting, courtesy of Hiroshi Mima, for some of the interior/exterior scenes at night. Editor Toshio Taniguchi does excellent work with the editing as it has some style in the action as well as some straightforward cuts to play into the suspense. Production designer Shigenori Shimoishizaka does fantastic work with the look of the clan leader’s palace as well as the design of the boat’s interiors that the abbot is in. The makeup work of Hideo Yumoto and Toshio Tanaka is terrific for the look of some of the characters including the women such as the pickpocket and the mistress. The sound work of Tsuchitaro Hayashi, with sound effects by Toru Kurashima, is amazing for its sound work to play into the action as well as some of the sparse sounds of drama and suspense. The film’s music by Hideaki Sakurai is incredible for its mixture of jazz and traditional Japanese percussion music that help play into the suspense and action.
The film’s superb ensemble cast feature some notable small roles from Minoru Ohki as Ogami’s nemesis Lord Retsudo who is intent on trying to finish him once and for all, Shingo Yamashiro as Lord Kuroda Narikata as the lord these assassins are trying to help, Koji Fujiyama as the pickpocket’s assistant, Bin Amatsu as a village investigator trying to nab the pickpocket, Eiji Okada as Lord Narikata’s adviser, Tomomi Sato as the pickpocket “Quick-Change” O-Yo, and Hideji Otaki as Abbot Jikei who is the assassination target that Ogami must kill as well as in another role as one of the messengers that Ogami confronts. In the roles of the four other assassins, Akira Yamauchi, Taketoshi Naito, Fujio Suga, and Rokko Toura are fantastic as men who each provide a certain skill as well as a message to Ogami. Michiyo Okusu is excellent as Shiranui as Lord Narikata’s mistress who is instrumental in the mission at hand while she also is carrying a secret relating to what is at stake where she is willing to help Ogami.
Finally, there’s the duo of Tomisaburo Wakayama and Akihiro Tomikawa in their phenomenal respective roles as Ogami Itto and Daigoro. Tomikawa’s performance remains this air of innocence and wit as a young boy who is aware of the journey he and his father are venturing while he dabbles into a moment of misunderstanding for himself where he shows his bravery. Wakayama’s performance maintains that air of understated emotion as a man who continues this trek through Japan on his way to Hell as he copes with loss but also eager to do what he can in his journey where he also learns that not everything is black-and-white in his current mission.
Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in the Land of Demons is a sensational film from Kenji Misumi that features a great cast, dazzling visuals, a hypnotic music score, a suspenseful story, and killer action. It’s a film that isn’t just this compelling samurai film but also a man whose encounter with tragedy as he and his son continue in this journey to Hell. In the end, Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in the Land of Demons is a spectacular film from Kenji Misumi.
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