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Number 3 Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades (1972) or, don’t go to bat for a prostitute unless you really need to.

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.

 
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Posted by on March 15, 2012 in Movie Reviews

 

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Review Number 175! I am glad we made it. What are we looking at for this momentous occasion? My favorite Chambara actor Ichikawa Raizo in The Adventures of Nemuri Kyoshiro (1964).

Ichikawa Raizo plays Nemuri Kyoshiro in The Adventures of Nemuri Kyoshiro (Daiei, 1964) the second in the series based on an “antihero” who was known in the west as The Full Moon Swordsman named after his hypnotic sword style, or the Son of the Black Mass series because of Kyoshiro’s toxic origins, which, in the early episodes, are not revealed.

Nemuri Kyoshiro was a ronin by choice with such great skill that if he wanted to he could serve any lord he pleased.  With a head of reddish-hued hair due to his mixed lineage, he was the son of noblewoman who was raped by a European Satanist on a night of a black mass.

Kyoshiro has both good and evil streaks in him.  If he thinks you are an innocent, good person he can be your champion and a sentimental lover, he also is a killer and a rapist to the vile or vain.  Kyoshiro is a self-styled villain though many want him to be a hero.  If it will keep him from being bored will he live up to heroic expectations.

The Adventures of Nemuri Kyoshiro is the number 2 in a series of 12 movies from 1963-1969.  The film starts with Kyoshiro pursuing a female pickpocket and undresses her with his sword.  Stripping women with his sword becomes a bit of a trademark as he does in several films sometimes raping them as well.  Kyoshiro is quite the judgmental chap and when he decides you are a bad woman he’s apt to humiliate you sexually and when he decides you’re a bad alpha male he’ll kill you.  He is a true iconoclast, whatever society most values, he despises.

In this film, a little orphaned son of a samurai makes a living pushing old people up a long set of outdoor stairs for pocket change.  The boy’s father once owned a dojo, but was killed by a challenger who then took control of the school.  The slain samurai was one of Kyoshiro’s instructors and he extracts his revenge in the name of his former sensei and the innocent hardworking child.

As the movie develops, we learn that Akaza Gunbei wants to kill an old financial commissioner who is a champion of the people not rich.  The commissioner befriends Kyoshiro when he starts discussing the problems in Edo caused by the mass unemployment of samurai who are wreaking havoc throughout the city.  The commissioner is wounded by a surprise ronin attack, but Kyoshiro foils the assassination attempt.  Instead of anger, the commissioner feels sorrow for his attacker.  After Kyoshiro saves the commissioner, he stays within close proximity of him as protection that annoys the old man.

A wandering fortune-teller, Uneme, is a spy for one Princess Takahime.  Takahime has secretly ordered the assassination of the commissioner because as the chief financial officer he has been forcing the shogunate to cut back on expenses in particular reducing the Princess’s substantial allowance.

Since Kyoshiro is getting in the way of the Princess’s intentions, he is drugged by the fortune-teller and when he awakens, he is in the presence of Takahime.  She is eager “to have my way with you.”  Having none of it, Kyoshiro insults her by calling her “Princess Pig,” denigrating her position since she’s really only one of fifty bastards of the shogun.  Kyoshiro kills one of her lovers and escapes once more to continue protecting the commissioner.

Nemuri prefers women who are virginal of spirit, not necessarily literally virgins, who offer themselves reluctantly (perhaps as payment for helping someone they love).  He also likes prostitutes who have no remaining illusions, for they are at least honest in their hearts.  Yet in this film Nemuri Kyoshiro contrary to his later portrayals, is capable of a strictly platonic relationship with an innocent noodle-stand girl.  He is just not a man generally capable of liking women for more than physical pleasures.  Those who are too pure he robs of their illusions; those of infamy he gladly kills, sometimes, as in Kyoshiro Nemuri at Bay (Kyoshiro Nemurai Joyoken, 1964), killing villainous women who are unarmed or otherwise defenseless.

Eventually five ronin meet on a foggy evening to plan Kyoshiro’s demise.  One is shuriken artist, another one a spearman and on and on.  After leaving the unwanted company of the Princess, Kyoshiro encounters the spearman who foolishly believes he can defeat Kyoshiro’s Full Moon Cut style by attacking when the circling sword passes in front of Kyoshiro’s own eyes.

Kyoshiro claims that when he starts the full moon sweep of his blade, death is assured for his opponent, so another one of the five attempts to attack before Kyoshiro can begin the Full Moon Cut circle.  These guys start dropping like flies at this point.

The last of the five waits until the circle is entirely traced hoping to penetrate the stance at the end of the circle.  Even though the winner of the duels is a forgone conclusion, the many assault variations add a definite pizzazz to an otherwise elegant action.

Kyoshiro is not portrayed as invulnerable.  The evil Princess Taka sets up an exhibition duel between Kyoshiro and Lord Yagyu.  She has had the duel rigged, but Kyoshiro detects the trick causing an unexpected outcome.  Lord Yagyu was also duped and reports the Princess treachery to the shogun, resulting in her exile.  The standoff is suggestive of Miyamoto Musashi, who in life and in film versions of his life was never pitted against the Yagyu sword, though he almost had the chance.

The Nemuri Kyoshiro series are some of my favorite chambara films.  Perhaps because I am a big Ichikawa Raizo fan (who died at 39 from rectal cancer) his movies have a special appeal to me.  The Kyoshiro series though is unique in the sense that the protagonist is just as evil as he is good.  Of course I don’t condone raping et cetera so don’t get on a high horse yet.  That said, his evil lineage, iconoclastic nature and vast skills as a fighter makes Nemuri Kyoshiro one of the most distinctive and complex characters to ever appear in this genre.  I highly recommend the series and unlike all the bitching resulting from the Kill Bill review and comments, there is no blood and gore in the film to make some people squeamish—you know who you are.

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2012 in Movie Reviews

 

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