Monday, October 12, 2020

Lone Wolf and Cub: White Heaven in Hell


Based on the manga series by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima, Lone Wolf and Cub: White Heaven in Hell is the sixth and final film of the series that follows the titular father-son duo as they travel towards Hell as they endure new forces wanting to take them out for good. Directed by Yoshiyuki Kuroda and screenplay by Tsutomu Nakamura, the film marks the end of the film series where the duo of Ogami Itto and his son Daigoro travel through a deadly winter as they’re reprised respectively by Tomisaburo Wakayama and Akihiro Tomikawa. Also starring Junko Hitomi and Goro Mutsumi. Lone Wolf and Cub: White Heaven in Hell is a somber yet eerie film from Yoshiyuki Kuroda.

The film follows the duo of Ogami Itto and his son Daigoro as they’re known respectively as Lone Wolf and Cub as they continue their trek towards Hell while Lord Retsudo (Minoru Ohki) is eager to finish them off once and for all after a series of losses that forces him to take extreme measures. That is the film’s entire plot as it play into a father-son duo continuing their journey while taking assassination jobs to make a living yet they’re threatened by forces including a clan whose leader is revealed to be the illegitimate son of Lord Retsudo in Hyouei (Isao Kimura) who has other motives to go after Ogami. Even as he has an army of his own as well as a trio of men who are skilled killers who uses tricks and such to bring fear to Ogami and Daigoro as they become aware of the new challenge they have to face.

Yoshiyuki Kuroda’s direction is largely straightforward as it emphasize less on style and more on the visuals while retaining the film series’ approach to gratuitous violence. Shot on various locations in rural and snowy areas in North Japan, the film does play into a man and his son trekking through Japan where they even stop briefly to visit the grave of his late wife as they stop a failed ambush from a group of samurai warriors. There are also these elements of surrealism as it relates to Lord Retsudo’s meeting with Hyouei who had been living in the mountains in isolation except in building his own army and clan that include this trio of men who are known for their magic but also their uncompromising approach to killing the innocent as a way to haunt Ogami. The usage of the wide and medium shots not only are used to get a scope of the locations but also into what Ogami is facing with the latter being used to play into some of the duels he would take part including a battle with Lord Retsudo’s daughter Kaori (Junko Hitomi) as there’s a richness to the duels thanks in part to the work of fight choreographer Eiichi Kusumoto.

Kuroda would also use close-ups to play into some of the moments of dread and suspense that would become more prevalent in the third act as it relates to Lord Retsudo’s determination to kill Ogami. Most notably as he deals with failure and the fact that not everyone including Hyouei’s men are loyal to Lord Retsudo as they prefer to deal with Ogami on their own terms. The film’s climax is set in a snowy mountain where skis and sleds are used with Lord Retsudo having a cart-sled of his own as it is this grand and wild climax filled with lavish stunt work and fights. It is all about Lord Retsudo having his vengeance yet it is about Ogami also getting justice for his late wife. The choreography and action is intense as it play into Ogami facing off against an entire army while its aftermath is more about Ogami and Daigoro dealing with the carnage of what they had to face but also the journey they still have to continue. Especially as the film has this nice conclusion but it ends the entire series in an abrupt manner due to issues involving studio politics and the desire to create a TV series which did run from 1973 to 1976 in Japan. Overall, Kuroda crafts a riveting and gripping film about a father-son assassin duo facing off against new enemies led by their old foe.

Cinematographer Chikasi Makiura does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography in capturing the bright white colors of the snow with Hiroshi Mina providing some lighting including a key scene in the snowy mountain at night. Editor Toshio Taniguchi does excellent work with the editing as it has some stylish cuts including a few jump-cuts to play into the action and suspense. Production designer Akira Naito does amazing work with the design of the igloo that Ogami and Daigoro stayed in during the snowy mountain showdown as well as the cart and sled that Lord Retsudo would ride in. Costume designer Yasunao Inui does fantastic work with the look of the robes that some of the characters wear including the clothing of Hyouei and his men.

Makeup designers Hideo Yumoto and Toshio Tanaka do terrific work with the look of a few characters including Lord Retsudo and his new one-eyed look as well as the look of Hyouei with his big hair. The sound work of Tsuchitaro Hayashi, along with sound effects by Toru Kurashima, is superb for the atmosphere that is created for some of the action and suspense as well as the effects that play into the action. The film’s music by Kunihiko Murai is incredible for its mixture of funk, jazz, and traditional Japanese music with some orchestral touches as it help play into the drama and the action.

The film’s wonderful cast features some notable small roles from the trio of Daigo Kusano, Jiro Miyaguchi, and Renji Ishibashi as Hyouei’s three main assassins, Goro Mutsumi as Lord Retsudo’s aide who gives him news about everything, Junko Hitomi as Lord Retsudo’s daughter Kaori who is eager to avenge the death of her brothers and challenge Ogami, and Minoru Ohki as Lord Retsudo as the man who killed Ogami’s wife as he finds himself being challenged by what Ogami has done and is eager to kill him no matter what. Isao Kimura is incredible as Hyouei as Lord Retsudo’s illegitimate son who had been living in seclusion in the mountains where he created his own army and clan as he hopes to be the one to defeat Ogami while retaining an air of respect and honor as a way to carry something his father isn’t able to do.

Finally, there’s the duo of Tomisaburo Wakayama and Akihiro Tomikawa in phenomenal performances in their respective roles as Ogami Itto and Daigoro. Tomikawa remains this somewhat silent presence as a kid who observes everything around him while would often be someone to lure others into a trap while he would show fear for the first time in the form of Hyouei’s assassins. Wakayama remains this stoic figure who will strike whenever he’s threatened as he too becomes fearful of Hyouei’s assassins due to their tricks and actions yet is determined to outsmart them anyway he can while dealing with the journey in hand as well as Lord Retsudo whom he knows is after him as he is willing to confront him.

Lone Wolf and Cub: White Heaven in Hell is a tremendous film from Yoshiyuki Kuroda. Featuring a great ensemble cast, gorgeous visuals, a riveting music score, dazzling action sequences, and a simple yet effective story of vengeance. The film is an intense samurai film as it play into a man continuing his journey towards Hell with his son as they finally get into a confrontation with the man who wronged them. In the end, Lone Wolf and Cub: White Heaven in Hell is a spectacular film from Yoshiyuki Kuroda.

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