LONE WOLF AND CUB: BABY CART IN PERIL is #4 out of six LONE WOLF AND CUB films, and comes pretty directly out of the stories from the late Kazuo Koike’s manga about the former Shogun’s-executioner who was framed by the god damn Yagyu Clan (fuck those guys) and now travels Japan with his young son Daigoro, working as a freelance assassin along his “Demon’s Path” toward vengeance and damnation. He usually ends up doing something very honorable that seems a little more like redemption, but he doesn’t see it that way. He thinks he’s the devil. This was before heavy metal, too.
This one’s kinda got an A and B plot. One of them (take your pick which letter it is) involves the badass Oyuki (Michi Azuma, who played a different character in BABY CART AT THE RIVER STYX – they should do that in more American movie series), a former “sword mistress” gone rogue so she can avenge her former mentor for raping her. One of her trademarks is to cut off the top knots of all the motherfuckers who come after her, which in their culture seems to be even more humiliating than when Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake used to badly shave the heads of those he defeated in the ring.
Ogami is hired to kill Oyuki, and it turns into a bit of a detective story as he tries to find her by listening to stories about her from various people who have met her, including the tattoo artist who gave her the back and breast tattoos she uses to menace and/or distract her prey. When he does track her down, in classic Lone Wolf and Cub fashion, he hangs out in a hot spring, watches her kill some dudes, listens to her story. We’ve pretty much been on her side since before the opening credits (which by the way include funky theme song and flashes to the Lone Wolf and Cub ball and sword origin), and we hope Ogami ends up agreeing with our assessment.
The other plot is about a wandering samurai who turns out to be Gunbei Yagyu (Yoichi Hayashi, KWAIDAN), Ogami’s supposedly dead rival for the executioner post. Gunbei actually won the duel to get the job, but during the fight he mistakenly pointed his sword in the direction of the shogun and Ogami put himself between the blade and the throne, and that’s why they gave him the post. Gunbei and his whole clan were disgraced by his colossal fuck up, and they decided to get even by framing Ogami, kicking off this whole bloody saga.
(So I guess we should thank them for being such poor sports. That has provided us hours of entertainment.)
Before we know all that we just know he’s a wanderer who’s fascinated by Daigoro. The poor kid gets lost and goes looking for the nearest Buddhist temple, knowing that’s where his papa would go to get a murder assignment. But when he goes inside one it’s not his dad inside, it’s Gunbei, and being startled in the middle of his prayers he puts a sword in the kid’s face.
But Daigoro doesn’t flinch! He just kinda rolls his eyes. The battle-worn and grown up samurai recognizes this look. He swears it’s “Death Life Eyes,” and he can’t fuckin believe it. “The eyes belong only to those who have survived death and carnage multiple times. No way a little child can have such eyes.”
So he follows Daigoro and watches him. When the kid accidentally gets trapped in the middle of a field being burned by farmers, Gunbei’s suspicions are confirmed. I love the casual savagery of these stories. Gunbei just stands there and watches curiously. Yep, I was right, the kid’s not even scared as he’s devoured by fire. Interesting. He thinks, “What a strange child I have met,” turns around and walks away!
But of course this is Daigoro we’re talking about, not some chump, so he knows to bury himself in dirt to survive the fire. A Buddhist monk finds him, tries to carry him to get help, and passes Gunbei, who takes this as yet another fascinating development. Wait a minute, you’re telling me he survived that peril I watched him get into and didn’t bother to try to rescue him from? Well I’ll be damned!
And his reaction to that is to pull out his sword, because this kid is too dangerous to leave alive. He even kills the innocent monk who tries to shield the kid. And wouldn’t you know it – because motherfuckers always tryin to ice skate up hill – that’s when Ogami Itto walks up.
Ha ha, sorry Gunbei, you fuckin earned this one.
In addition to the behavior we’ve seen here, Gunbei is a perfectly hissable villain because he comes from such a place of privilege. According to tradition, he should’ve been killed for shaming the Yagyu Clan, but Retsudo thought it would be a shame to kill someone of his skills, so he arranged to fake Gunbei’s death. It’s as bad as the teachers in the Harry Potter books always coming up with some last minute rule change so their precious Harry can win every time.
Well, I guess not as bad. Those are horrible rules. I can’t be upset with anyone for breaking them. I rescind my complaint. I’m okay with death-faking in this instance.
HOWEVER! The fucked up part is that the way they fake his death is by summoning Goroza The Kurokawa Face-Maker, a master of disguise who comes, makes his face up as Gunbei’s, and then willingly gets decapitated. I mean, what kind of a shitty gig economy are we dealing with, here? Brutal. That’s late stage capitalism for you, or whatever.
So Gunbei gets what he deserves when they duel and Ogami chops off his arm and Gunbei begs to be killed and Ogami says there’s no point in killing him because he’s already dead. Reverse DOUBLE JEOPARDY starring Ashley Judd.
Of course there are lots of cool fighting gimmicks, such as ninjas disguised as Buddhist statues and a hypnotic flaming sword. But that’s just the icing on the cake to all this pulpy intrigue and extreme behavior based in historical detail and attitudes. Man, nobody told ‘em like Kazuo Koike.
Incredibly, these first four in the series were all released in Japan in 1972 – the first one on January 15th, this one December 30th. Hell of a year in cinema. They also had two FEMALE CONVICT SCORPION movies, GODZILLA VS. GIGAN, HANZO THE RAZOR: SWORD OF JUSTICE, two KAMEN RIDERs, two TORA-SANs, two ZATOICHIs and two Kinji Fukasukus (STREET MOBSTER and UNDER THE FLAG OF THE RISING SUN). Japanese directors got shit done back then. I don’t know how anybody else did, with so many movies to keep up with.
This was the first LONE WOLF AND CUB not directed by Kenji Misumi. He did the first three and HANZO THE RAZOR all for release in one year and I guess was too much of a slacker to do a fifth one – I don’t know what the hell his problem was. So they got this guy, Buichi Saito. This was his third 1972 release after two yakuza movies, one starring Sonny Chiba.
There are basically three English language titles for this, all great. The official video title, LONE WOLF AND CUB: BABY CART IN PERIL, is obviously fucking cool. Peril is not mentioned often enough in titles, and Daigoro, occupant of the baby cart, certainly finds himself in some of the ol’ peril here.
The literal translation is WOLF WITH CHILD IN TOW: THE HEART OF A PARENT, THE HEART OF A CHILD, also cool. Poetic. Beautiful.
And the bullshit dubbed version is SHOGUN ASSASSIN 3: SLASHING BLADES OF CARNAGE. As we have previously established, what kind of a dumb asshole would find the first two classics in this great series boring and cut them down to one movie and dub them into English and play keyboards over them and then dub the sequels and number them wrong so Americans don’t know that you defrauded them of one whole film in the series? It’s unethical, it’s dishonorable, it’s inexcusable, it has disgraced our entire clan.
However, that is probly the coolest of the three titles. The official one is arguably best for its accurate description of the content, but I like ostentatious titles, and SLASHING BLADES OF CARNAGE definitely fits the bill. So I’ll allow it.