Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance (1972)

Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance (1972)

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Call him fat and he'll slice your nose off.
Call him fat and he’ll slice your nose off.

Twitter Plot Summary: A masterless samurai seeks revenge on those who killed his wife. He is accompanied by his young son.

Five Point Summary:

1. Revenge is a dish best served cold.
2. Mad woman.
3. Man stands and watches other man kill another man.
4. Sunlight is a samurai’s enemy.
5. The cart has its uses.

Adapted from the long-running manga (Japanese comic books, for those not in the know), Lone Wolf & Cub follows the adventures of a Ronin (a samurai without a master) who travels across feudal Japan with his young son. Much of the appeal of the Lone Wolf series lies in its brutal violence, attention to the details of the feudal system in Japan, and the clear links the films have to the spaghetti western genre. Our lead is a generally silent force of nature (although he does have a lot to say early on), righting wrongs on his travels and seeking revenge on those that caused the death of his wife, all the while protecting his son from the violence that surrounds them. The claret flows with reckless abandon as wave after wave of bad guys fall foul of Ogami Itto’s sword. True to form, it’s never in doubt that he will win the day, whether you’ve read the manga or not.

Hidden beneath the violence is not only a compelling but simple story, but also a very well directed piece of cinema. Kenji Misumi has an eye for framing shots and creating atmosphere with the minimum of effort. Dropping all audio except for the swish of Ogami’s sword, the violence has its own sense of style and grace. Musical cues are used sparingly, but when introduced they are all the more powerful having been preceded by near silence.

It's the only way to fight in feudal Japan.
It’s the only way to fight in feudal Japan.

Running at a very lean 83 minutes, there’s little room for filler in this story. In fact you could argue that the only reason why it runs for more than an hour is because of the slow drawl of a couple of the bad guys or the obligatory need to show Ogami sleeping with a prostitute as proof that he has no fear of his captors (and to save her life lest their captors decide to bump her off). Whilst not delving into fantasy territory, there is much oddness to be seen, from a mad young woman insisting on breastfeeding Ogami’s son to standing around and watching your nemesis fight, or vice versa letting your nemesis simply walk away when he’s within striking distance. Maybe that’s just a cultural thing, but even so it seems a slightly odd process to follow, especially when driven by the desire for vengeance.

This opening film marked the first of many adventures in the world of the Lone Wolf, and gets things off to a strong start. Revelling in the period Japanese setting, the violence and the classic tale of a man seeking revenge, much can be said through simple imagery rather than dialogue. It’s a joy to watch for fans of the martial arts genre, with stunningly choreographed fight sequences and revelations that the baby cart has a bit more to it than simply being a form of transport for a three year old boy. It might be a basic piece of Grindhouse cinema to some, but for everyone else it’s deliciously violent and exactly the sort of diversion from the norm that the samurai genre needed.

Score: 4/5

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