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|Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in the Land of Demons
by Brian McKay
The penultimate installment of the LONE WOLF AND CUB series gets back to the basics. No nudity (surprisingly), no extravagant ninja shenanigans, no impossible (though amusing) displays of the baby cart's firepower. Just plenty of mano a mano swordfighting. Whether Ogami Itto (Tomisaburo Wakayama) is fighting one at a time or a hundred, get ready to wear away the arrow on your rewind button due to constant thumbing."Meifumando" literally translates to "The Road to Hell," and it is a road well-traveled by the Lone Wolf and Cub. Once the Shogun's chief executioner, Ogami Itto and his young son Daigoro now choose to "Live as demons, at the crossroads of hell". Traveling by the moniker of "Lone Wolf and Cub", they fear no death, their lives dedicated to wreaking vengeance on the Yagyu ninja clan who murdered their wife and mother and turned them into outlaws.
"The Road to Hell is Paved with Many Corpses"
Unfortunately, the "wreaking revenge" business just doesn't quite pay the biznills - unless you're wreaking it on behalf of someone else who has cash. Even a remorseless assassin has got to eat, and he earns his keep by doing what he does best - lots and lots and lots of killing. In order to recieve his usual fee of 500 gold pieces, however, this time he'll have to collect it 100 pieces at a time. He must defeat five Samurai from the Kuroda clan in five seperate duels, in order to prove his prowess. Along with a fifth of his fee, each warrior contains a piece of information about the assignment. As he defeats them one by one, the five envoys spill their guts - first literally, then metaphorically.
Ogami learns that the standing of the Kuroda clan is in peril. Their Daimyo, Lord Naritaka, has forsaken the son of his late wife, who is also the rightful heir of his fiefdom. Keeping the boy locked away, he lavishes his attention on his young daughter, who was born to his concubine. Passing her off as his son, he intends to raise her as the heir of his feifdom, even though she is not the legitimate successor. The Kuroda clansmen know that if the Shogunate gets wind of this, all hell will break loose. They hire Ogami Itto to track down the Abbott Jikei, a senior monk who is so revered that he is considered a "living buddah." However, all is not as it seems, and the Abbott is involved in shady dealings with Ogami Itto's old nemesis, the Yagyu clan. It is his task to stop Jikei from bearing a scroll documenting Lord Naritaka's transgression to Retsudo, the Yagyu leader. Retsudo plans to use the information to usurp the Kuroda feifdom.
Whilst the Lone Wolf and Cub are following the trail of the Abbott, they are also approached by the lady Hamachiyo (Michiyo Yasuda), who is entrusted with the care of the Kuroda's rightful heir. She offers Ogami Itto and additional 500 if he will kill the lord Naritaka, his concubine, and their daughter, so that the clan's rightful heir can be restored.
While Itto tries to kill the Abbott (he fails on his first attempt, when the Abbott pulls some kind of Buddah-Jedi-Samurai mind trick on him), the overly-inquisitive Daigoro wanders off on his own again, getting into some kind of trouble as usual. This time he agrees to hold a purse for a beautiful pickpocket known as "Quick Change" Oyuu. As she is pursued by a constable, she asks him to hold it and not tell anyone, hoping it will allow her to get away (or at least not be caught with the evidence). When the constable recognizes the stolen purse in Daigoro's hand, he threatens to beat the child unless he identifies the woman who gave him the purse. Proving himself to be as tough and stoic as his old man, Daigoro refuses. Even when Oyuu comes forward and confesses to prevent the beating, Daigoro refuses to admit that it was her. When Ogami Itto witnesses the interrogation taking place in the middle of the public square, he doesn't rush in with sword drawn to rescue his son, as one would expect. Instead, he watches proudly as Daigoro sticks to his guns. Although this little subplot is irrelevant to the rest of the film, it provides a pleasant diversion from the bloodshed and culminates in one of the more touching, yet unspoken, moments of affection between father and son - whose usual conversation merely consists of "Pa" and "Daigoro".
Baby Cart in the Land of Demons uses small touches like these to expound on the father-son dynamic between Daigoro and Itto (who may be the first "single dad" action movie hero). It also reveals a previously unseen complexity of Itto, who hesitates to kill a holy man and struggles with the life of a "Demon" that he has chosen for both himself and his son. These nice little flourishes of character development aside, though, the film delivers the goods as usual in the bloodshed category
Carnage and Carnality
-no boobs. This may be a LW&C first! (there's so much killing, though, that you won't miss 'em)
-Kuroda clansman pinned to a windmill with twirling katana toss
-water duel featuring Ogami Itto's patented Wave Slash attack - with reverse grip!
-Potential poisoner pummelled by katana quick-draw
-long-winded Koruda clansman calmly relates details of assignment while on fire
-Lady Hamachiyo nearly ensnares Ogami Itto in her "chains of love"
-public beating of a child by police officers. Nobody gets it on tape because camcorders don't exist yet.
-Lone Wolf jumps into the river for a bout of synchronized slaying
-Ogami Itto emerges from the river to wield a naginata and kill two dozen men - officially becoming the first fat man to run around in an oversized diaper with a bow on his head and still look cool
-Scores of men killed in final battle, which includes:
. uppercut face cleaving
. sword snapping
. overhead reverse thrust to throat
. man cut completely in half, revealing the curious absence of any internal organs.
-Man, woman, and child efficiently beheadedI shall write my next review with a heavy heart, since it will mark the end of the glorious LONE WOLF AND CUB series. However, there is a glimmer of good news - LW&C #1 to be released on DVD in early 2003! At last, the legend will be preserved in digital.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=6775&reviewer=258
originally posted: 01/10/03 13:12:14