Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades (or, in Japanese: Kozure Ôkami: Shinikazeni mukau ubaguruma, literally Wolf with Child in Tow: Perambulator Against the Winds of Death), is the third in a series of six Japanese martial arts films based on the long-running Lone Wolf and Cub comic book series about Ogami Ittō, the wandering assassin for hire who pushes his young son, Daigoro, around in a wooden baby carriage. Ôgami Ittō (Tomisaburo Wakayama) is still following the ‘path to hell’ with his only son Daigoro (Akihiro Tomikawa) in order to avenge his wife’s death and clear his name. On their way through 17th century Edo Japan, the father and son are again confronted with a colossal number of enemies (above all the Yagyu clan and their cronies), and the ‘Lone Wolf with child’ is once again hired as an assassin (as always for 500 ryo). Ôgami Ittō, (after Raizo Ichakawa’s Nemuri Kyoshiro) is my personal favorite anti-hero and is, as always, completely fearless and almost invincible. Unlike Nemuri Kyoshiro, not only is Ittō fearless in battle but he also follows a strict moral code. Ittō appears more selfless in this film than in the other movies. He voluntarily submits to torture in order to help out a prostitute and his son Daigoro, who is also of growing importance to the series, is developing an equally deep character progressing with each one of the movies, including even starting to engage in battles. The baby cart, in which Daigoro sits most of the time, has even more secret weapons and gadgets than in the previous films.
We find Ittō and his son by a river getting on a boat. The boat captain tells Ittō that he can’t take the baby carriage on a boat; Ittō was prepared for this eventuality and putts the wooden baby carriage into the water so it floats in tow with Daigoro in the cart. A young woman at the front of the boat, clearly hysterical, drops a bundle holding all of her worldly possessions into the water, and Daigoro retrieves the bundle.
Ittō, meanwhile, draws his sword part way and notices in the reflection on the blade that some bamboo reeds are also trailing the boat. The father and son assassination team is being followed by soldiers of his sworn enemy, the Yagyū Clan. Their pursuit forces Ittō to constantly look over his shoulder and never let his guard down. So much so that when Daigoro is relieving himself in a bamboo glade, Ittō slices into some bamboo stalks, causing several ninjas to fall from their perch — they don’t last long near Ittō’s blade.
In the next scene we find some of the lowest of the low-class of samurai termed watari-kashi – small bands of fighters who move from one daimyo to the next, depending on who’s hiring, and do the dirty work that most samurai would not touch with a ten-foot pole. A group of four watari-kashi is idling at a rest stop next to the road. Hot, bored and stupid, they spy an attractive young woman, her mother and their servant walking down the road. Three of them run off to cause some mischief, but one of the band – Kanbei, the most honorable of the four – refuses to get involved. The three stooges knock the servant out and summarily rape both the mother and daughter. Once the servant regains consciousness, he attempts to beat them with his bamboo pole, but is slaughtered by Kanbei, who also slays the two women to insure their silence. Kanbei then makes the three stooges draw straws informing them that the one who draws the short straw will be killed to take the blame for the rapes and murders of the group.
Ittō pushing the baby cart stumbles on to this grizzly scene just as Kanbei is slaying the watari-kashi who drew the short straw. Ittō executes the other two rapists when they attempt to attack him. Kanbei recognizes Ittō and requests a duel with the former shogun executioner. Ittō accepts and they prepare, but at the last second Ittō lowers his sword and calls it a draw telling him “You are a true warrior, one I hope lives on.”
At an inn, it turns out that the young woman from the boat is to be sold into prostitution. Her pimp tries to have his way with her, but she bites off his tongue, spitting the bloody appendage onto the floor. The pimp dies from the injury.
The girl seeks refuge in Ittō’s room, and Ittō steps in to protect her from the local police. Then the town’s real authorities show up – the yakuza, led by a woman named Torizo. After some verbal sparring and defending himself against Torizo’s pistol, Ittō agrees to act as a substitute for the young woman and undergo the buri-buri torture that includes being hogtied and hung in the air and repeatedly dunked headfirst into a tub of water. The subject is then beaten to unconsciousness by men wielding thick rattan canes and shouting “buri-buri.” Ittō endures the torture without so much as a whimper, freeing the young woman from having to work as a prostitute.
But this miser Torizo claims that there is still the debt to pay for the death of the pimp, so Ittō agrees to take on an assassination for Torizo and her father, a one-armed man with whom Ittō is acquainted from his old days as the shogun’s executioner – when he acted as second during the execution of a daimyo who, fear-stricken, struggled dishonorably, and Torizo’s father got in the way of Ittō’s death blow and lost an arm. At least Torizo does not get this assassination for free — Ittō charges her the full rate.
The target is a corrupt district deputy. Initially Ittō is to face the deputy’s personal bodyguards, one of whom is a sharpshooter and quick-draw artist who wields a pair of revolvers. Through cunning and guile (and the help of his young son Daigoro, who acts as a decoy), Ittō defeats the armed man and takes his guns. The other is chopped up by Ittō in a sword duel.
Ittō’s battle culminates in his facing the deputy’s army – perhaps 200 men – singlehandedly. For the first time we are treated to the gadgets in the baby cart, which holds an entire array of weapons, including spears, daggers, a bullet-proof shield, and a small battery of guns. Ittō personally takes out the henchmen not killed by the guns with his sword and other weapons from the baby cart, even employing Musashi’s two-sword technique.
In the last battle the ronin Kanbei shows up just after Ittō has slain the scrubs and makes his demand again for a duel. The fight is over in an instant. Ittō is sliced across his back, but Kanbei is mortally wounded, impaled on Ittō’s Dotanuki battle sword.
Kanbei seeks some sort of reassurance by telling Ittō the reason why he was expelled from his clan and then asks the former shogun’s executioner to act as his “second” in the act of seppuku. This Ittō does with honor.
As Ittō walks away and Torizo begins to runs after him obviously taken over by her true animal instinct, but is stopped by her men who beg her not to go to him, saying he is not human, but a monster.
The entire “Kozure Ôkami” (“Lone Wolf & Cub”) cycle starring Tomisaburo Wakayama is magnificent cinema for its genre, and it is films like these that make me a diverse cinema lover. The third entry to cycle, “Kozure Ôkami: Shinikazeni mukau ubaguruma” aka “Lone Wolf And Cub: Baby Cart To Hades” is not my favorite of the Ôkami films, more precisely it is probably my least of the six, and yet it is an utterly clever film, that I couldn’t possibly bear to give it a rating lower than a well-deserved 9 out of 10. Apart from the stunning violent bloodshed, fascinating philosophy, beautiful photography and countless other ingenious qualities, arguably most brilliant aspect of the “Ôkami” films is the portrayal of the father-son relationship between Ôgami Ittō and his son Daigoro, and its depiction once again deepens in this film foreshadowing the movies to come.
Keep up with the series and if you have not seen them start for gods sakes.
Also, some have requested that I make the clips bigger to accommodate the subtitles so forgive the questionable quality.