Not Rated, but the Lone Wolf and Cub movies are over-the-top intense with violence and sexuality. Oddly enough, there's very little sexuality in this entry. There is some male nudity, including a kid who is naked in a non-sexual context. But the violence, per usual, is pretty redonk. There's a lot of blood and a lot of death. Also, the entire plot involves an assassination on a five-year-old. So call it "not rated" all you want. But this is clearly an R-Rated movie.
DIRECTOR: Kenji Misumi
Oh man, I'm almost done with the box set. There's a nice momentum going with these. I have one more entry in the series. From what I understand about the manga, it ran for a really long time, so I'm not really expecting a clean conclusion from the next movie. But this entry in the series brought something completely new. Yeah, it's still violent, violent murder. But the story feels very different from the other entries in the series. All that being said, I really needed to read the Wikipedia article on the movie to make sense of it.
A lot of the movie really rests around the idea that there's a very short, but complicated story. It has this concept that it really wants to get across...that does not involve the titular characters. Geez, I can't believe I'm dropping this reference, but think about the beginning of the few Transformers movies that I've seen. Never mind. I just can't. Think of the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring. That works. The beginning of Fellowship gives this whole long narration of the world of Middle Earth. That world building that Tolkien fans love, that's what's going on. Tolkien's history of the forging of the One Ring is so central for the story to make sense, the movie devotes a lot of time to establishing that. But The Fellowship of the Ring has so much story to get through that the prologue is a fraction of the story. Unfortunately with In the Land of Demons, this is movie five. There's not a lot of story. So, in kind of a clever fashion, Ogami Itto and Daigoro are woven into the story. To get the protagonists into the story from moment one, Misumi has the protagonists go through a series of tests, not wholly unlike the Trials of Hercules.
What this does is give a whole bunch of action, but the entire thing kind of reads like a video game. Most video game movies don't work because video games reward action with narrative. Fight fight fight fight fight, cutscene. That's kind of what goes on in the first third of the movie. Ogami Itto fights guy after guy. After every boss fight, we get this snippet of story about this thing that is happening in one part of the world. It's a bit absurd that all of these guys are completely disposable as tests. What would happen if the assassins killed the best assassin in the world? Would the story just have a sad ending? If the town from The Seven Samurai decided to test the samurai, are they cool with being just out of luck? Listen, I'm very cool with the format that the beginning takes. It's just that my logical brain can't actually accept it.
The weird thing about In the Land of Demons is that it acknowledges that there's no story to maintain an hour-and-a-half film, so it gives a B-plot which is more pure than anything else that the Lone Wolf and Cub movies actually offer to this moment. There's a way more interesting side story about Daigoro getting separated from Itto. This happened briefly in the last movie, but this is a whole side story. The story of Daigoro is kind of the central conceit of the story. While it is super cool that Itto can kill a bunch a dudes at a moments notice, it's way more interesting looking at the "cub" element of the story. Daigoro is a scary dude. The whole narrative of Daigoro protecting the pickpocket to an obsessive level is so much character development in 20 minutes that it makes the whole film worth watching.
But the story is about killing a five-year-old girl. There's one moment that fixes all of my reservations for the movie. There's this cross cut between Daigoro and the princess at the end of the movie. It's adorable. We have these serious discussions going back and forth and the two kids are making faces at each other. Aw, that's sweet. It's a comment on the absurdity of honor and violence and all that. Then, the five year old girl just says "Kill them". Come on. I didn't see that coming. See, the stalling of the narrative gets to be a bit much by the end of the film. The first twenty minutes stalls a very necessary story. The middle of the movie is Daigoro and the pickpocket, unrelated to the A-plot. Then the movie has to hit all of its tropes. Itto has to kill a bunch of dudes. He has to get a real threat, which lasts a short time. But when the princess says, "Kill them", I was back on board. It gets real violent. I'm not quite sure how the story ends up. I think that he murders the little girl. I swear I saw her head on display, but it was a real quick shot.
I actually have very little to say about the movie because it has so little content to it. I oddly enjoyed a movie that is an exercise in stalling. I think that's part of the problem with these episodic films like Lone Wolf and Cub and Zatoichi, The Blind Swordsman. There's so many beats that have to be hit before the end of the film and sometimes the story is really comic book length. But considering that it wasn't the same movie as the others and that the techniques used to stall the film were interesting, I didn't even remotely dislike it. Sure, I would have liked to know what was going on. I'm still only 70% sure what happened in the movie, even with the Wikipedia article. But it doesn't mean it wasn't worth watching. A fun side-effect of the stalling first beginning is that the film is forcing itself to be creative with new ways to murder. Also, Itto attacking a boat underwater is rad.
I'm not sure what the movie was doing with the attack on the priest. It's really undercooked, but there was potential to make it interesting. Regardless, I approve without any kind of reason for approving of it.
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.