The words classic cult films are used a lot these days and many films do not deserve such an accolade but these superb set of Japanese action classic certainly do.
The Six-Film Lone Wolf and Cub Series is Based on the Internationally Best-Selling Japanese Manga Comics and stars Tomisaburo Wakayama as the shogun’s executioner, Itto Ogami. He takes to wandering the countryside as an assassin-along with his infant son Daigoro (Akihiro Tomikawa) and an infinitely weaponised baby cart, helping those he encounters while seeking vengeance for his murdered wife.
Sword of Vengeance
The first film in the Lone Wolf and Cub series immediately thrust Itto Ogami into the ranks of the all-time great samurai movie icons. In this instalment, the Shadow Yagyu clan plots to solidify its power by taking Ogami’s coveted position of shogun’s executioner for its own. The legendary assassin escapes with his infant son, Daigoro, and swears vengeance. Superbly crafted and directed this shows how he became the lone wolf and chose to take his son along for the gory ride. The choreography and action is brutal and very gory and still stands as a landmark in the Samurai film genre.
Baby Cart At The River Styx
In this exploitation-cinema classic, which took the action and graphic violence of the Lone Wolf and Cub series to delirious new heights, Itto Ogami and Daigoro continue their quest for vengeance through meifumado, the spiritual way of “demons and damnation,” pursued constantly by the Shadow Yagyu clan and the shogun’s spies. A fan favourite in the series the stylistic action is even more plentiful this time around and just as gloriously gory.
Baby Cart to Hades
Unfolding in an idyllic countryside that contrasts sharply with the violence that occurs within it, the third Lone Wolf and Cub film follows Itto Ogami and Daigoro as they continue their journey and stumble upon a crime scene involving a group of lowlife swordsmen from the watari-kashi class. A slower moving episode which has a lot of violence towards women and can be somewhat disturbing in places.
Baby Cart In Peril
In this distinctly lowbrow entry in the Lone Wolf and Cub series, Itto Ogami is hired by the Owari clan to assassinate a tattooed woman who is killing her enemies and cutting off their topknots. Meanwhile, Daigoro is separated from his father when he follows a pair of travelling street performers outside of town. Lots of action and nudity in this episode where Ogami tangles with female assassins as well as other foes out to get rid of the Lone Wolf once and for all.
Baby Cart In The Land Of Demons
Balancing physical action with Buddhist musings on life and death, the most spiritual of the Lone Wolf and Cub films finds Ogami’s combat skills put to the test by five different warrior-messengers. A great addition when he pits his skills against five warriors who all have a message to give him to before death.
White Heaven In Hell
In the final Lone Wolf and Cub film, star Tomisaburo Wakayama decided to make the sort of wild movie he’d always wanted to: one in which Lone Wolf battles zombies and Daigoro’s baby cart zips improbably across an icy landscape on skis. The series began to run out of steam in this last adventure set in a snowy landscape with even more bizarre opponents to dispatch.
Bonus Film Shogun Assassin
The film released in the cinema for Western consumption is a mix of the first two films in the series, but rather well dubbed with a good music score and narration by the babycart child.
Special Edition Box Set Features:
- New 2K digital restorations of all six films, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks. Superb remasters have these films looking better than ever with solid colours and nice grain structure. This set, unlike the previous Blu ray release in America has not had excessive digital noise reduction and close-ups look amazing. Sound is original Japanese mono LPCM 1.0 and while not enveloping does the job very nicely. Subtitles are clear and easy to follow.
- High-definition presentation of Shogun Assassin, the 1980 English-dubbed re-edit of the first two Lone Wolf and Cub films. This again looks fine, with solid blacks and bright colours. The English dubbed track is clear and fine.
- New interview with Kazuo Koike, writer of the Lone Wolf and Cub manga series and screenwriter on five of the films.
- Lame d’un Pere, l’ame d’un sabre, a 2005 documentary about the making of the series.
- New interview in which Sensei Yoshimitsu Katsuse discusses and demonstrates the real Suio-ryu sword techniques that inspired those in the manga and films.
- New interview with biographer Kazuma Nozawa about filmmaker Kenji Misumi, director of four of the six Lone Wolf and Cub films.
- Silent documentary from 1937 about the making of samurai swords, with an optional new ambient score by Ryan Francis.
- PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay and film synopses by Japanese pop culture writer Patrick Macias.
An excellent release from Criterion in the UK, exactly the same as the USA release yet this is also region free. With some great extra features this is totally recommended.