HA HA HA HA HA! It's so R-rated! SO R-RATED. Look at that still. That's a mild still of the things that you see in this movie. The movie is just littered with nudity. There's so much blood and dismemberment. It's the kind of blood that just squirts EVERYWHERE. If you want to laugh, there's child endangerment in here. The movie, and this is where I get serious, also is framed around rape. It's so R-rated everyone. Not for the feint of heart.
DIRECTOR: Buichi Saito
One day, probably during some degree of quarantine, I'll finish all of the Lone Wolf and Cub movies. It's so bizarre that I want to talk about Lone Wolf and Cub nowadays. I loved The Mandalorian so much, but no one I know is really talking about how it is just a sci-fantasy version of Lone Wolf and Cub. It's been a while since I've watched any of these movies, mainly because they're a lot. I get the appeal of Shogun Assassin as a condensed version of these films because if I binged these movies, I think I would instantly get desensitized to a lot of stuff.
I'm in the latter half of the film series...barely. It took a while to get through the first three. Something in me is inspired to just barrel through the final two. I enjoy these movies, but I don't think I've seen a movie in a franchise that represents "Part 4" of a serialized story than this movie. It's no that long of a film. It's an hour and twenty-one minutes long. That's a little baby movie. As such, it almost reads as an episode of television more than anything else in its structure. The movie introduces a really cool conceit. There's a woman. Of course, because these movies are as misogynist and bro-ey as you can get, she has to be topless for a majority of the film. Similarly, she has to be the victim of sexual abuse because this entire genre has some backwards morality. But this woman has to be the match for Ogami Itto. She's insanely fast with a sword. She's one of those villains that is both sexist and not sexist at the same time. She is the object of sexual desire for the movie, which isn't exactly progressive. But on the other end, she's a character worthy of respect both in skill and objective. We know that these two characters will spar because when you have an unstoppable force, what's the point without it meeting an immovable object?
But then the story takes a really weird angle in terms of formula. There's only so much keeping these characters apart. There doesn't seem to be a direct tie between these two characters, so to put them on a path where they have to encounter each other means that the two must fight in that moment. Sure, the film has the option to break up the fight when Itto is losing, but I don't know if the filmmakers and storytellers are cool with Itto falling to a woman that we've never met before this film. Instead, Itto and Daigoro must fill the time dealing with minor scrapes as a means to remind us that these are characters with unimaginable fighting talent who must go around with the blood of others on their clothes throughout.
As part of this stall tactic, the film gets a little bit confusing at the beginning. Itto's departure from Daigoro at the beginning is communicated to be something foreign and strange. While Itto regularly goes to the temple on this Road to Hell, Daigoro stresses that something is very different about this whole scenario. I'm a little confused that maybe I didn't pick up on something that I really should have because a lot of film real estate is devoted to what Daigoro is going to do in the absence of his father. We have this character who follows Daigoro around. The problem with spreading these movies around in the way that I have is that I feel like I should know who that character was, but I straight up don't. I got the vibe with the use of flashbacks that he's been in the other movies. But he's right there in Itto's origin story. I'm not sure if this is a retcon or a flashback, but the movie keeps pulling me away from what I should consider the main plot: the tattooed woman.
Daigoro spends his time in this movie looking like a little psychopath. I don't blame the movie for focusing on Daigoro. The narrative is an absolute mess of episodic adventures, so we need to have something compelling to make the fourth entry in the series something that has meat and value. Daigoro is the conceit of the film. It's what makes the Lone Wolf and Cub movies, besides the over-the-top sex and violence, different from other samurai films. Most brutal assassins don't bring their children into battle, but that's what makes Itto so interesting. Yet, there's few moments where Daigoro a liability. He's almost part of the cart. But like The Mandalorian, he's possibly the most fascinating character. With it's ugly structure, the silver lining is that Daigoro has some time to be in isolation. We know that he's a stone cold killer as well. He just lacks the hand-eye coordination of Itto, so he's can't do crazy sword work. Daigoro in isolation though, not juxtaposed to Itto, provides a look into his psychosis. Watching him walk through the field on fire is a great visual image. I get the vibe that there wasn't too much concern for the kid's safety on set. That's a lot of me guessing versus having evidence, but it also makes crazy sense to me. There's this narrative going on by his little stalker guy which both builds Daigoro's character and the stalker's character as well. It's a really interesting opportunity considering that so much of the movie doesn't work.
I don't love throwing the word "Mary Sue" around. It's horribly sexist, but Itto completely obliterates the line for Mary Sue in this movie. A Mary Sue can't be stopped. He or she is able to accomplish anything that they need to do and there's no threat of death. There's a reason that there's a term for this archetype. Batman has a lot of that going on. I actively disliked the original Charlie's Angels movies for this reason. But what happens when a character is a Mary Sue is that death has no meaning. The film ends with Itto and Daigoro against an entire army. They are pinned down in a quarry, probably for budgetary reasons, and there is no hope of escape. Itto takes on tons of guys. He actually does a pretty good job. He takes reasonable damage. But the movie really turns into the level of a video game when Itto takes down every single minion and then has a boss fight at the end. That boss wrecks him. Absolutely wrecks him. There are a handful of moments where the choice becomes binary for the screenwriter. It's either that Itto dies in this moment, which probably wouldn't be allowed, or someone else has to save him. There are just too many puncture wounds in one character to justify that Itto saves himself. But the lazy writer adds a phrase something along the lines of "And then Itto rallies once again" and wins. The movie ends with Itto trailing buckets of blood that he's losing before the credits roll.
I want to say that this is a cool moment. As a visual choice, it actually works really well. It's a cool concept that Itto can get wrecked. It starts that there might actually be stakes to the whole thing. If Itto can be killed, there's actually a risk to the storytelling. The problem is that Itto takes way too much damage. Even if Itto didn't die from those wounds due to plausible deniability, he shouldn't be able to go on. I almost wouldn't mind if the story started with Itto healing from his wounds somewhere else. But Itto staggers. If the franchise ended with Baby Cart in Peril, then you would imply that Itto would have died minutes after the movie ended. But we know that he comes back for another entry. As much as the film wanted to give Itto some degree of vulnerability, it actually does quite the opposite. Itto can take any kind of damage and clearly none of it is. The only way that he's actually allowed to die is if the entire franchise ends. It's always presumed that Itto wouldn't die before the last film, but giving him conditions where he should die really highlights the flaws of watching movie where there are no consequences.
The evil part of me likes this movie because it is just fun action. The world of Lone Wolf and Cub kind of borders on a fantasy realm. There are moments where the supernatural come into play, or at least things that toe that line. It's absolutely shameless and it really plays on the worst instincts of filmmaking. Completely lacking subtlety is normally a turn off. But I can't help that I admit that I enjoy these films. Part of it definitely comes from the fact that I never tried binging these movies. There's one thing that the series hasn't been and that's boring. But that also being said, it's not much actual substance. It's putting away a whole birthday cake in one sitting. You can do it, but it makes you feel kind of gross that you enjoyed it that much. You also shouldn't do that very often. Also, you'd have to cover the birthday cake with a lot of sex and blood and that's not something that's probably healthy for anyone.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.