Movie Review: Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance

Posted: May 10, 2010 in Movie Review, Reviews
Tags: , , , , , , ,


Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance (1972 Toho Dir. Kenji Misumi)

How about an above the fold summary of the review? A decent actioner, which influenced the Invincible Hero movies of the 80s. While it’s got good action and story, it is heavily marred by misogyny and violence towards women.

It’s all about the (Japanese equivalent of) the Benjamins baby!

Haven’t had a review of a samurai movie in a while. Actually, have we ever properly reviewed a samurai movie? Let me check the archive. Nope, doesn’t seem as though we have. Well, let’s do this one and see what we have. Based on the works of writer Kazuo Koike and artist Goseki Kojima, this is the first movie in the Lone Wolf and Cub series, which spanned six movies and two television shows. Actually it’s only known as “Lone Wolf and Cub” in the west. In Japan it’s called Wolf with Child in Tow. This movie is properly called “Kozure Ōkami: Kowokashi udekashi tsukamatsuru” or in English “Wolf with Child in Tow: Child and Expertise for Rent” and I hope you recall all of that for later because it will be on the test. All you really need to know is that these are highly stylized actioners with lots of blood and fighting. This is a prime example of Chambara, which is a fancy word for sword fighting flicks. These tend to dwell less on the thoughts and emotions and more on the blood shed.

You’ve got red on you.

There is a problem with this movie though and if I don’t explain it properly I’m going to look like a prude, so please stick with me. The way women are used (not treated, not depicted, used) is distasteful. There is a lot of nudity in this movie, and very little of it is something I can actually enjoy. The women who are nude in this movie are either mad, raped, murdered or made to perform under a threat that comes close enough to rape for arguments to be made. You can make all the “It was a different time you understand” statements you want, but the fact is that the way women are treated is pretty off putting. I watched it with someone recently and she more or less lost sympathy with the movie after the first rape scene. You’ll noticed I called it the FIRST rape scene, indicating that there would be at least a second one. By the time the scene with the prostitute came along, she was pretty disgusted. This isn’t a “Violence is fine, but don’t show me a boob.” argument. I like boobs, I like boobs a lot, boobs aren’t the problem here so much as how they’re shown. The bloody violence in the movie is at least mostly among equals, the violence against women is just cruelty towards a weaker being. I wouldn’t have minded if any of the sexuality were consensual, but that is completely absent from this movie. It might be acceptable if any of the women had swords or knives, but they’re just unarmed victims, waiting for their victimizer to come along.

As you can see, the shogun’s handwriting is completely illegible.

So enough of that, what’s the movie like? Well, it tries to shock you right from the start. I suppose it was trying to be controversial for it’s time, and to some extent, it would still be a shock to some people today. The first scene is the execution of a four or five year old boy for reasons that are never really made clear. You don’t actually see anything, but it’s clear what happens. The scene is only to show that the hero of the story, Ogami Ittō, was the executioner for the shogun. A shogun that was sort of a dick and had people killed all willy-nilly for any minor infraction real or imagined. That’s neither here nor there really, because it won’t be brought up much, like ever again. The real point is that he’s killed a lot of people and he’s awesome with a sword. The problem for Ogami is that the Shadow Yagyu Clan (don’t ask, we’ll be here all day) wants his position for themselves, so they took it. No, wait, I’m getting a head of myself.

If you’re going to put a wig and fake eyebrows on a guy, you might not want to zoom in so close that we can see the weave material.

Part of the movie is shown in flashback, where we see how Ogami was framed, shamed, and his house was destroyed. It’s an origin story, told a year or two after the fact. See, the baddies of the Yagyu Shadow Clan wanted his position of official executioner, so they murder Ogami’s family and everyone who works in his house while planting incriminating evidence that he said something bad about the Shogun. Instead of committing seppuku, he was ordered, Ogami decides instead to destroy the Yagyu. Yup, Ogami decides to go on a good old-fashioned quest for vengeance, but not before letting his infant son decide for himself if he’s going to join him. In a scene that would be played out in a dozen different knock offs, Ogami gives his son a choice between a ball and a sword. If the baby, the infant, gravitates towards the ball, his father will kill him. If, however, the boy goes for the sword, he will join his father in his quest to kill everybody who ever even thought about wronging him. Seriously, this guy gets nothing for Father’s Day. The boy goes for the sword, because it would be way less interesting if it were just the lone wolf without the cub.

Is it wrong that I find a guy with a fake stump on his head spraying blood hilarious? It’s just that it’s sooo fake looking.

That’s basically the overriding story for this and the next five movies. Later movies will be defined by the climax where he cuts through three dozen soldiers and a supposedly unstoppable badass bodyguard to get to the person he’s been paid to kill. Yeah, movies three through six all end that way and movie two only leaves out the three dozen soldiers. Let’s talk about the violence for a moment, because that’s what most of you would be here for if you’re interested in watching this movie. As far as fights and stylized violence goes, this is a pretty awesome movie. One shot that I’m always reminded of is when Ogami cuts a guy, and he sprays blood from his chest for about seven seconds before he falls. Count to seven slowly for me, that’s how long the guy sprays blood. Not a little blood either, a veritably geyser of crimson fluid shoots from him for most that time. I was all ready fairly used to the idea of one guy cutting down a dozen guys with single strokes, so that’s nothing new. The blood sprays were new and the level of the violence was pretty new as I understand it. I could be mistaken, but I understand this was the thing that blazed a trail.

Awww, look at him. You’d never know he later helps his dad kill six dozen people.

The rest of the movie has a pretty basic progression once the story is set up. Ogami and Daigoro (the son) travel to a town that’s besieged by bandits and kill all of them. There isn’t much more than that, besides engaging in some unpleasantness and more rapes and violence towards women. And let’s not kid ourselves, that’s pretty distasteful stuff. The only reason I keep watching through that is the promise of a completely badass killing spree to come. When it does come though, it is awesome. In fact, it’s more than awesome because the baby cart is full of weapons. Parts come off and click together to make spears, knives pop out of the side and in later movies it’ll prove that there are machine guns in the front. I have to admit, I actually cackled with glee upon first seeing him partly disassemble the cart and have blade pop out for him. It’s not like it’s only done once either, the baby cart weapons are consistent from movie to movie. Oh, and did I mention the bottom of the cart had a metal plate making it bulletproof? Well, it does, so it is. It’s like Q from the Bond movies put this thing together.

This guy? Just stand there spraying blood for five full minutes. It’s like the end of Behind the Green Door, only with fake blood.

I can’t remember if the rest of the series is as bad towards women as this first movie was, because I watched all six in a two-day spree and they’ve kind of melded in my mind. Some don’t do women any great favors, and all of them have some amount of nudity as I remember. It’s not a bad series exactly, it’s just trying a little too hard to be shocking, which when viewed from this late date looks like a teenager acting out in a cry for attention. Still, if what you want is a fistful of really visceral action scenes, mixed with a decent amount of story, you could do a lot worse than picking up the Box Set and giving them a try. I’ll be honest, this was the movie I was least impressed with, they get better from here. Maybe later, when I’ve gotten through a few other reviews, I’ll do one of the sequels just to show you.

Also, there are a lot of scenes of nature just dropped in for no apparent reason.

Official Score:
43 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.

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  1. George Dubucletl Jr. says:

    My questions is was there ever a movie made about his Son becoming a Man.; and if so is it out and how can I get a copy of it. Thanks I love Long Wolf and Cub. I have all chapters. George

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