Lone Wolf and Cub I: Sword of Vengeance (1972)

November 17, 2002 • Film, Reviews

Country: Japan
Director: Kenji Misumi
Writer: Kazuo Koike, Goseki Kojima
Producer: Shintaro Katsu, Hisaharu Matsubara

Cast: Tomisaburo Wakayama, Fumio Watanabe, Tomoko Mayama, Shigeru Tsuyuguchi, Tomoo Uchida, Taketoshi Naito, Yoshi Kato, Yoshiko Fujita, Reiko Kasahara, Akihiro Tomikawa, Kauji Sokiyamo, Teruo Matsuyama, Toshiya Wazaki, Michimaro Otabe, Saburo Date

Running Time: 83 Min

Plot: Framed for treason, the executioner of the Shogun is stripped of office and declared an outlaw. Together with his infant son he sets out on a blood-soaked journey of revenge against the secret society that murdered his wife and soiled his good name.

Apparently, these Lone Wolf and Cub films have been forgotten in Japan. But in the rest of the world, they set a standard for grisly, gore-filled action in the seventies. Director Kenji Misumi was one of the talented exploitation film craftspeople of that era, and he gave genre fans what we now expect from such movies: a handsome look, blistering action, fleeting nudity, and fanciful gore. This one, the first of six, is very good, although perhaps a little slow for modern-day action movies. There’s some nice photography, hideous and beautiful sword duels, some of that fleeting nudity, and, for maybe the first time, ghastly, cheesy sprays of blood every time a wound is made. But, all that said, it is slow. I liked it, but I also fell asleep watching it.

The story itself is the best draw for it. It’s all sadistic murder and intrigue, with a tantalizing kind of negativity that is a transcendent aspect of the story itself. The “baby cart” story has been told in many formats since it’s original Manga presentation (even a version by artist Stan Sakai, who pitted his “Usagi Yojimbo” character against a “Lone Goat and Kid” in one issue of his comic), and almost every time, the basics are still the same: Itto Ogami, the Emporer’s official executioner, is framed by the jealous Yagyu Clan. The Yagyu’s take the law into their own hands and, once they have planted “proof” of Ogami’s “treason against the state,” they massacre the executioner’s family–all except for Itto’s son, Daigoro. Faced with two awful paths, Ogami leaves it to his infant child to decide which road to take. He holds out Daigoro’s rubber ball and his own sword. If Daigoro touches the ball, he will execute him and then kill himself. If Daigoro touches the sword, then they will travel the land together, Daigoro in a baby cart full of murderous weaponry and Ogami pushing the cart along, walking alongside the River Styx until they find the chance to avenge the wrongs done to their family. Guess the kid touched the ball, huh?

Actor Tomisaburo Wakiyama, brother of famous “Zatoichi” star Shintaro Katsu, plays what should have been a definitive version of Itto Ogami, grimly plodding down “the road to hell” with his unflappable infant son. His rendition of the character is quite good, and one of the best selling pieces for these films today.

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