Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx literally Wolf with Child in Tow: Perambulator of the River of Sanzu) is the second in the series of Japanese martial arts films based on the long-running Lone Wolf and Cub manga series about Ogami Ittō, our wandering assassin for hire who is accompanied by his young son.
The disgraced former Kaishakunin to the shogun, Ogami Ittō is now living off the land pushing his son in the wooden baby carriage as a hired killer. When he arrives in a small town looking for a room, food and a bath he is eagerly welcomed in by a young woman to their inn. The manager of the inn sees Ittō as a dirty vagrant and scolds the young woman for letting him stay. Overhearing this, Ittō calmly goes to his baby cart and hands a bundle of 500 ryo to the manager for safekeeping – probably more money than the manager has seen in one place in his life. Naturally, the overall level of service quickly changes, but just to tweak him a bit, when the manager tries to wash Daigoro’s feet, the boy kicks water in his face and leaves wet footprints all over the floor.
Ittō’s activities are being watched by the Kurokawa spy clan of shinobi-class ninja, which have fallen in with Ittō’s nemesis, the Shadow Yagyū. They report on his activities to Sayaka, head of Akari Yagyū clan of female assassins. But the Kurokawa are unsure that the women are up to the task of killing Ittō. Sayaka laughs confidently and tells the Kurokawas’ leader to send their best man into the room. She then orders the man to try to exit the room. He tries to do so by grappling onto the ceiling, but the female assassins set upon him and start hacking off his ears, fingers, arms and legs, leaving a stump of a man (just a torso and head) before he is cruelly finished off.
Ittō, meanwhile, is hired by a clan that has a secret process to make indigo dye. This secret has let the clan get away with being undervalued for years (saving on taxes et. cetera). One of the clan plans to sell his comrades out to the shogun and Ittō must kill him. The turncoat is to be escorted by the feared Hidari brothers, each a master of a deadly weapon – the iron claw, the flying mace and a pair of armored gloves and they all wear enormous hats.
As he travels to his job, Ittō encounters the famed female assassins and has no problem killing them all—unlike that unfortunate ninja.
Then he meets Sayaka, who catches him, his son and the baby cart in a steel net. Ittō cuts his way out of the net and engages in a sword duel with her. He delivers what should be a disabling blow to her ankles, but the woman fighter jumps straight up out of her kimono to reveal a fishnet body suit and then runs away backwards.
Next, the Kurokawa clan is waiting for Ittō, who puts together his naginata (disguised as railing on the baby cart) and gives the baby cart a shove toward the waiting enemies. Daigoro, still in the baby cart then activates blades located in the axles of the cart, which cut off the feet of several men. The battle that ensues between Ittō and the Kurokawas is fierce and Ittō is seriously injured before he has killed them all.
Weary from the endless fighting, Ittō struggles along the road and eventually finds shelter in a shack. Daigoro, seeing that his father needs his help, must do what he can. Unable to carry water in his tiny hands, Daigoro carries water from the river in the only vessel available – his mouth. He spits the few drops he could carry between his father’s parched lips much like a mother bird feeding her hatching. For food, Daigoro finds some rice cakes given as an offering to a Buddha statue and takes them for his father, leaving his vest in exchange.
Ittō recovers and finds that his son is missing. Daigoro has been taken by the Kurokawa and Sayaka, tied up and suspended over a well. If Ittō attacks, they will surely let go of the rope and Daigoro will plunge to his death. Daigoro lets his sandal drop into the well, giving Ittō a gauge of how deep it is. Itto makes his move as the rope is released, stopping it just in time to save his son.
Sayaka watches silently and makes no move to engage the swordsman, realizing Itto’s technique far outstrips her own and perhaps also out of a sense of honor for the devotion of the father to his child.
Ittō then finds himself aboard a ship, carrying the three Hidari brothers who recognize him and offer a détente in that if one party does not interfere with the other party there will be no need for any superfluous deaths and bloodshed.
The final showdown takes place on a vast desert. The Hidari bodyguards are at the head of a caravan of men carrying a palanquin with the indigo expert inside. The brother with the iron claw runs forward and thrusts his claw into the sand, which boils up with blood. There are men hiding in the sand. He stabs his claw into the sand several times, each time pulling up a hiding warrior by his head. The rest of the hidden men in the sand emerge and fight, but are destroyed by the bodyguards.
Client Eastwood style, Ittō awaits, alone, at the top of a large dune. As each brother attacks they are killed by Itto in a grandiose style with fountains of blood and the last one killed in one lethal stroke along his throat, a cut that sprays blood in a fine mist while making a sound like the “howling of the wind.” The last of the Hidari brothers comments that he wanted to hear the effects such a precise stroke from one of his victims instead hearing it from his own neck as his life slowly flies away.
Ittō approaches the palanquin with the traitorous indigo expert inside, finishing him before gathering Daigoro and again setting off.
Many argue that Baby Cart at the River Styx is the best and most entertaining movie out of all the Lone Wolf and Cub series. That is merely a matter of personal taste since I think each of the films has their moments. Because of Tomisaburo Wakayama’s martial arts talents, the scenes are greatly choreographed and very over-the-top. It’s amazing the inventiveness they came up with at times. Of course, there is still is plenty of blood in this one that sprays like a garden hose sometimes. However, it looks like red paint!
If you are only going to watch one of the LW&C series, this is probably the one to watch.