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Lone Wolf & Cub VI–We Still Need Closure or How to Get Your Daughter Killed.

Lone Wolf and Cub: White Heaven in Hell is the final in a batch of six Japanese martial arts films based on the long-running Lone Wolf and Cub manga series about Ogami Ittō, a wandering assassin accompanied by his young son, Daigoro.  As most of his family is already dead at Ogami’s hands, Retsudo (the head of the evil Yagyu and archenemy of Itto) makes a last ditch effort to destroy Itto by sending: Hyouei, an illegitimate son who practices the black arts, and Kaori, a female expert in the lethal art of knives.  In the only truly supernatural aspect of the series, Hyouei wages psychological warfare on Ogami and Daigoro, by killing any innocent person the pair come into contact with.  The Lone Wolf and Cub are forced into a truly solitary existence in order to save the innocent victims from harm. 

 

Ogami dispatches with the daughter rather quickly, but things are a little more complicated when dealing with the supernatural.  Needless to say, Ogami comes through, but not before the stoic Ogami becomes unnerved and expresses fear for the first time.  The big battle takes place on a snowy mountain, where the baby cart becomes a sled.  Ittō defeats the entire army, shooting, stabbing, slashing, dismembering, and beheading the entire bunch using Musashi’s two sword technique.  But the one-eyed Retsudo again gets away, vowing to kill Ittō another time and while exhilarating, it lacks the closure followers so eagerly needed.

 

It should be noted that Ogami Ittō has 150 on screen kills in this film, the most of any individual character in a movie.

 

While boasting one of the most memorable battles ever filmed, the final installment in the Lone Wolf and Cub series came as somewhat of a disappointment as I was anticipating a final confrontation between Ogami and Lord Retsudo Yagyu.  Alas, this battle never occurs.  According to legend, the reason for this omission is that the entire six-film series was filmed between 1972 and 1973, while the manga was still a work in progress.  There could be no conflict between the film and the manga so the makers of Lone Wolf & Cub had to work with that they had.  Though the manga version does have a final showdown between Ogami and Lord Yagyu, it was not published until 1976.  Because this had not been published yet, White Heaven in Hell lacks the closure that everyone was looking for.

Looking back on the series it is truly one of a kind.  But the reason this review is much shorter than the other Lone Wolf and Cub editorials, is because there is a lot less to talk about.  The film seems rushed, written in a hurry with no clear plot in mind.  Of course, the body count is high, but the first five films offer much more in terms of story and character development.  However, the makers were under pressure and probably did the best they could under the circumstances.  Anyways, I was one of what I am sure are many fans that was wondering if the film or the film series was really over.  There needed to be a confrontation between the two to settle the score otherwise Itto would keep wandering and Retsudo would simply keep trying to kill him.

 

Be that as it may, we made it through was is almost universally accepted by Asian film watchers as one of the finest series of that genre.

 

Next up  . . . it will be an American Comedy.

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2012 in Movie Reviews

 

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Lone Wolf & Cub Five: Or don’t try to pass off a girl as a boy. It could cost you your head.

This is the 5th in the Lone Wolf & Cub series.  It also marks the return of Director Kenji Misumi who directed the first three Baby Cart films.  It combines the films strong period feel, a convoluted affair and a fantastic amount of onscreen schematic violence.  Including some of the best death scenes in the series particularly the deaths of the messengers, each die a spectacular death.  For example, Itto slashes one of the poor saps who falls into Itto’s campfire’s red-hot coals living in agony only long enough to relay a complex message before finally he is finally engulfed in flames.

I guess I should explain the reference to the messengers in the preceding paragraph.  Ogami is being vetted by five messengers who all try to kill him.  That is some original job recruiting by an employer; I don’t think we would have an unemployment problem if more employers took these types of actions in while headhunting.  After defeating all the messengers, Ogami learns he must kill a young girl who is being raised as a boy to become heir of a local daimyo, while the real heir, a little boy, is kept locked away in a castle tower.  I have to ask wouldn’t someone notice along the way that the child is growing into a woman rather than a man?

The assassination assignment includes murdering the senile old lord, his concubine and the girl masquerading as a boy, plus Ogami must also stop a document revealing this sham from reaching the hands of his mortal enemy, Yagyū Retsudō.  While on the job, his son Daigoro is once again separated from his father and proves his courage and sense of honor as he refuses to admit the guilt of a woman pickpocket he promised not to rat on.  With his father looking on and giving his son ever so slight nods approving of Diagoro’s refusal rat on the woman, the boy is beaten, doesn’t talk and has taken his first major step to becoming a samurai.

For Itto it can be said that although Tomisaburo Wakayama plays a very stoic, virtually emotionless character, he does it very well.  This is perhaps due to his years of real martial arts training.  He handles his sword normally without any of over the top moves because of his skills, however, he can pull it off as his movements are focused and intimidating.

Now as a chambara fan, I must confess that the combination of stylized violence and the existential mystical look at both historical Japan and the genre conventions that form chambara, sure come through in this film.  It might not be as groundbreaking as the first two entries in the series; it is after all following well-tested tradition, but it is done with such conviction and deliberation that one has to give it its due.

As with other serialized characters of the chambara universe like Zatoichi or Nemuri Kiyoshiro, Baby Cart in the Land of Demons meets one’s expectations as a pure Lone Wolf movie that doesn’t frustrate one the way Hollywood sequels do.  Master film-maker Kenji Misumi breaks the traditional forms of the period drama that make even a fifth entry of this tried and tested recipe very palatable.

The idea of the five Samurai, each giving Ogami a part of his mission as their dying words is an imaginative one.  The fight scenes were excellent, particularly the underwater fight scene.  While the final battle was not as epic as some of the others in the series, Ogami still fights an entire army single-handedly, as fans have come to expect since the second film.

While some may say Baby Cart in the Land of Demons isn’t as enjoyable as some of its predecessors, I think otherwise.  It’s very solid from a technical standpoint and probably the most beautifully-filmed of the bunch.  The Spaghetti Western cinematic influences are present throughout in the form of tight Leone-esque camera shots and certain musical cues.  At times, there’s also a subtle otherworldly atmosphere, which may or may not be suggestive of Itto and son’s further descent into the depths of hell.  Even the supporting characters in the film are somewhat allegorical in a way: the clansmen of the Kuroda wear demon masks, and the initial five Kuroda representatives that Itto battles in the first act of the film wear veils that feature drawings of the “Beasts of Hell”.

As with anyone of the series see it, you won’t regret it.

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2012 in Movie Reviews

 

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