Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades (1972)
Directed by Kenji Misumi

Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades
Kozure Okami: Shinikazeni mukau ubaguruma
Starring Tomisaburo Wakayama (Itto Ogami), Akihiro Tomikawa (Daigoro), Go Kato (Kanbei Magomura), Yuko Hamada (Torizo), Isao Yamagata (Deputy Genba), Jun Hamamura (Miura), Saburo Date (Torizo's henchman), Michitaro Mizushima (Asada), Ichiro Nakatani
Screenplay by Kazuo Koike
Produced by Shintaro Katsu

Toho Company/Katsu Productions, 89 minutes
Color, 2.35:1 scope ratio
English-subtitled DVD and Blu-ray: AnimEigo

The story catalyst in this complex Lone Wolf and Cub episode is a girl named Omatsu who is being delivered into service as a prostitute. After sharing a ferry ride with Itto Ogami and Daigoro, she ends up killing her captor in defense against a rape attempt. Ogami defends Omatsu from both the police and the yakuza group in charge of the brothel where the girl was to serve. Torizo, the female yakuza boss, agrees to negotiate with Ogami for Omatsu's freedom, whose price is buri-buri water torture and beating. Ogami's stoic endurance scares the hell out of Torizo's henchmen while they club him.

Recognizing him as the famed Lone Wolf assassin, Torizo then hires Ogami to carry out a vendetta killing on behalf of her father Miura. It turns out that Ogami severed Miura's arm years ago during an official shogunate execution gone wrong, but Miura apparently bears no grudge over that. His target is the corrupt Deputy Genba, who raped Torizo's sister and conspired to eliminate their clan. Genba is played by Isao Yamagata, one of the all-time great Toei bad-guy actors, who is absolutely at home in the morally bankrupt world of Lone Wolf and Cub. To get at Genba, Ogami has to successively take out a number of bodyguards and a pack of ninja. In one case he uses Daigoro as a distraction to separate a sharpshooter from his guns to make him an easy kill.

In the end it comes down to an epic showdown of the baby cart duo vs. Deputy Genba and his massed horde of about a hundred archers and swordsmen. Ridiculously outnumbered, Ogami battles his way through the army in a torrent of blood and death.

But the most formidable challenge Ogami faces comes in the form of one man, a master swordsman named Kanbei. Played by the underrated character actor Go Kato, Kanbei performs exactly the same function as the "mystery ronin" figure common to the Zatoichi series. The mystery ronin is a bad-ass warrior our hero encounters early in the film, establishing himself as a worthy adversary possessed of some degree of honor, then returning in the end for a climactic faceoff.

Kanbei is introduced in the first act as a ronin working as a bodyguard for hire alongside some nasty thugs. Ogami runs into Kanbei cleaning up the scene after his cohorts have assaulted innocent female travelers, and the two warriors see themselves as kindred spirits: fallen samurai subsisting in an evil world. Of course, fate has it that Deputy Genba's men enlist Kanbei in their offensive against Ogami, and the two sword masters set aside their mutual respect to duel as the last men standing on a corpse-littered battlefield. Their fight is arrestingly staged and photographed, with Kenji Misumi channeling Sergio Leone to maximum effect.

Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades has a richer and more memorable story than average among the other entries in the series. I love its circular structure and the presentation of Kanbei, who ranks as one of Ogami's finest opponents. There are also a number of nice little moments here and there, like Ogami and Daigoro splashing each other while fishing in a stream, and the father picking out a nice leaf for the boy to use as toilet paper. It's tough to pick a clear favorite out of the uniformly great Lone Wolf movies, but this one might be mine.

The Lone Wolf and Cub Series

The Jidai-Geki Knights
Cinema