Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril (1972)
Directed by Buichi Saito

Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril
Kozure Okami: Oya no kokoro ko no kokoro
Starring Tomisaburo Wakayama (Itto Ogami), Akihiro Tomikawa (Daigoro), Michie Azuma (Oyuki), Yoichi Hayashi (Gunbei Yagyu), Tatsuo Endo (Retsudo Yagyu), Shin Kishida (Enki), So Yamamura (Jindayu), Tokio Oki (Lord Owari), Hiroshi Tanaka
Screenplay by Kazuo Koike
Cinematography by Kazuo Miyagawa

Toho Company/Katsu Productions, 81 minutes
Color, 2.35:1 scope ratio
English-subtitled DVD and Blu-ray: AnimEigo

Baby Cart in Peril is the first film in the Lone Wolf and Cub series not directed by the acclaimed Kenji Misumi. Despite what some fans might say, I see no discernible drop in quality under the supervision of the lesser known Buichi Saito. For any viewers who may question the prestige of this movie's creative staff, I point to the name of the cinematographer: Kazuo Miyagawa. The man who shot Rashomon and Yojimbo. Miyagawa maintains the series' established tradition of beautiful nature shots and fine compositions, highlighted here with fields on fire, rocky landscapes and touches of autumn colors.

But never fear, Miyagawa-san doesn't turn Lone Wolf and Cub into a Merchant Ivory film. Right from the opening sequence, this installment preserves another of the series' trademark attributes -- blood and boobs. A topless swordswoman named Oyuki dispatches several attackers, displaying her vivid full-body tattoos include a witch on her back and a baby demon drawn fondling her breast. Oyuki was once a street performer doing sword tricks, until a nobleman named Lord Owari took an interest in her and brought her into his clan as a sword instructor. When things went badly, Oyuki turned against the Owari clan and is being hunted down as a deserter. Itto Ogami enters the picture when the family of a victim of Oyuki's rampages hires him to kill her.

On top of that, Ogami has to tangle with Gunbei Yagyu, yet another son of his arch nemesis Retsudo Yagyu. Flashbacks reveal how years ago Ogami had bested Gunbei in a duel to win the post of official shogunate executioner. Gunbei was supposed to commit seppuku, but Retsudo arranged for a double to die in his place, leaving Gunbei to roam in exile. The disgraced Yagyu happens to spot Daigoro when the boy is separated from his father, recognizing that Daigoro has the cold eyes of a man who has stared down death. He watches as Daigoro wanders into a burning field and has the wherewithal to bury himself in mud to survive the blaze. When Gunbei draws his sword on the boy, Daigoro raises a stick in self-defense. From his stance, Gunbei identifies the Suiouryu style of Itto Ogami, and then has no doubt whose son this is. On cue, Ogami shows up and the old enemies settle some long-standing business.

Ogami's subsequent battle with the tattooed Oyuki takes on thoughtful resonance about the futile nature of revenge. Ogami admonishes her for killing indiscriminately in pursuit of her vendetta, resulting in the suffering of innocents who now seek revenge in turn against her. It may seem like a hypocritical lecture coming from an assassin for hire, but after all, Ogami has set out to stir up chaos and evil in the world. Oyuki's father Jindayu, the chieftain of the street performers, expresses strange relief when Ogami tells him he is going after his daughter. He wants Lord Owari to know that Ogami acts his his blessing. Their parent-child connection under tragic circumstances reflects the series' core relationship between Ogami and Daigoro.

For the epic conclusion, Retsudo Yagyu and Lord Ogawi form an alliance to take down Ogami. The ensuing brutal battle in a rocky canyon feels like it's straight out of a western. To top it all, Ogami crosses swords with Retsudo himself for the first time in the series. The Yagyu shadow lord is played by a variety of different actors from one film to the next, and this time it's the best one: Tatsuo Endo, the burly blusterer who portrayed numerous Zatoichi villains. Retsudo gets a lot of screen time in Baby Cart in Peril and Endo really brings him to fiendish life. The only actor who could rival him in the role would be Tomisaburo Wakayama himself, once he had aged enough to switch the other side for a 1989 TV movie version.

The Lone Wolf and Cub Series

The Jidai-Geki Knights