R, but not just R. Super R. Honestly, these movies are exploitative as they can get. In terms of narrative, it says that it condemns rape and violence towards women, but ensures that the audience sees the entire act before saying it is bad. This happens in each one of these movies and multiple times during the film. It has that horror movie morality where it says that fornication and drug use is bad, but is going to glorify it before there are consequences for the actions. Also, it has a lot of red paint blood going on. The Lone Wolf and Cub movies are not morally good films. R.
DIRECTOR: Kenji Misumi
I don't know how people could binge something like this. There are six Lone Wolf and Cub movies. I love me some samurai films. In the past, when I was free of responsibility, I could binge a whole bunch of samurai films in a night. I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about specifically Lone Wolf and Cub. Man alive, these movies are about brutality. I am kind of amazed that Criterion released all of them. I get that there is some artistic value. I do get that a bit. I'm thinking about that quote about the difference between art and pornography. While I don't think that Lone Wolf and Cub is explicitly pornography, I think its intention is similar to that of pornography. There is no real message here, but it is meant to release the darker intentions of those who watch it. I don't want to draw straws because this leads to questionable morality, but I do think the Lone Wolf and Cub movies might be truly a terrible thing in the hands of some people. This all leads me to the question, "Do I like these movies?" I'm not sure. I don't abhor them. I'm disgusted that they exist, but do they have a fun storytelling element to them? Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades might be the one that makes me question this the most.
The idea behind Lone Wolf and Cub is kind of cool. Former executioner refuses to kill the son of the shogun, so he raises the kid as his own. Because the kid is the next in line for the shogunate, the boss sends out assassins to take out the couple. I like that. That's very cool. I mean, the movies get to be absolutely silly. Ogami Itto, the Lone Wolf, is a Batman / Mary Sue. He can't lose. You know that he's going to crush every fight until he has to fight his match. But don't worry, he'll still win. But the cool element is that the kid is used as a bait-and-switch from time-to-time. Add to the fact the most ridiculous, 1970s element to the whole thing: the baby cart. The baby cart is James Bond's Aston Martin DB5. Considering that the story takes place in feudal Japan, the cart is a tank. Each movie keeps adding something to it to make it more insane. Before, it used to come apart to form all kinds of cool swords and spears. While insanely ridiculous, there was a suspension of disbelief. Maybe something like that could exist. I don't know. I'm not a baby cart designer in feudal Japan. I have no authority over such things. In this one, SPOILERS: The baby cart turns into a literal tank / machine gun. Baby Cart to Hades really introduces how Ogami would go against guns. I mean, in an absolutely silly way because sometimes guns matter and sometimes they do nothing. But he, apparently, is also awesome with guns. So the major concept of Lone Wolf and Cub should be compelling, blood splatter and rape removed. Baby Cart to Hades is the third Lone Wolf and Cub movie made in the same year. This is episodic television. I know that production schedules were often like this. I'm also watching the Zatoichi movies and those come out in bulk as well. But with the Lone Wolf and Cub movies, the kid isn't allowed to age. He has to be that age, like, forever. He has to be old enough to stand up and run, but he can't be old enough to defend himself or else that baby cart makes no sense. (See, I'm validating it.) But Baby Cart to Hades doesn't have a story. It has scenes. It definitely has scenes. But it has absolutely no story.
Baby Cart to Hades is a fundamental misunderstanding of Chekhov's Gun. Chekhov's Gun is the idea that if the author focuses on an object and imbues it with importance, it has to come back in some meaningful way. This movie barely has a narrative. The first two movies had actually pretty structured plots. Ogami Itto would be given a mission that tied into his overall mythology in the first fifteen minutes of the film and then would be attacked all the way through that mission. Fine. It was lazy storytelling, but the purpose of this movie is to cram in as much action and sex into the film as was humanly possible. But there was at least a plot. I don't know if this movie was mostly improvised because there are four separate disparate plots that really don't last longer than 20-25 minutes. But it tries to Chekhov's Gun all of them. Like the rest of the franchise, there is a big showdown at the end. How is Ogami Itto going to beat this massive threat? Well, everyone from the separate storylines are going to show up and conclude their plots. That's really lazy. SPOILER: For example, Ogami Itto meets this amoral mercenary on the road. He is sickened by other mercenaries because of their rapey behaviors and he murders both the rapists and their victims. When Ogami Itto witnesses this, there is a duel and Ogami Itto proclaims it a draw. He says that he sees the potential for a true samurai in this mercenary and he wants to see that man. That's the end of that plot until that guy comes in at the end and they duel for real. None of the stuff previously mattered. That mercenary wasn't throughout the story, developing a conscience or his skills. Rather, he tells the story of how he used to be a noble man before being shunned by his lord. That's fine, I guess, but it has nothing to do with Ogami Itto's current situation. That second duel means that he is only brought back to see who would win in a fight. The actual drama is completely ignored. Why introduce all of that stuff about him becoming a true samurai? Why not actually complete the duel at the first battle? Nothing had changed about the mercenary. He just announced his backstory later on in the plot versus during the main plot. It was a lame excuse A) to tie everything together as if it was important and B) to give Ogami Itto something else to fight during an already insane climate. That's the entire movie. Ogami Itto would meet a threat. He would deal with that threat. The story would go on. There would be an off-handed reference to that earlier threat. Lather, rinse, repeat. Like, it's pretty bad. I can tell why this one probably got edited for Shogun Assassin. Although, from what I know about Shogun Assassin, they probably loved this movie.
I mean, he fights ninjas. And these ninjas are what Americans think ninjas are. They are practically magical in this movie. This is where the initial question I raise is. (Also the original sentence I wrote hate.) I don't quite know why these are Criterion movies. Criterion has mostly claimed to be the art house release company. I know. You can get Supercop and Ghostbusters on LaserDisc. (I have a few weird ones on Laserdisc, including Ghostbusters.) Armageddon and The Rock are among the earlier DVD Criterion releases. I know that there is high art and there is low art. But the only reason that Lone Wolf and Cub might be in the Criterion Collection is because it is Japanese and old. I'm going to play devil's advocate here. They are Japanese samurai movies. They also have kind of a cult following. There are a few releases on the Criterion Collection that are very culty movies. I mean, I don't see much artistic merit to stuff like Repo Man, but at least I can kind of see that one. I'm watching the ninja scene and, while I think it might be my favorite three minutes of the film, I have to acknowledge that it is pure popcorn schlock. I don't think that anyone on the crew thought that they were changing the world. I mean, the movies, for being absolutely violent and completely over-the-top, they are kind of pretty. But a lot of that comes mostly from being a genre film. Are all Westerns a form of art? Can there be an action film that's part of the canon? (I mean, samurai films tend to be action movies. But I still argue that the Lone Wolf and Cub movies don't exactly belong in the canon.) I suppose that I've always had an issue about what the canon actually means. I'm usually on the other side, arguing for genre films to be accepted as high art. But it is odd that Lone Wolf and Cub gets a little more acceptance than a film like The Dark Knight. Is it cultural permeation? While I love myself some snobbery, is it the fact that only a select few really know about the films that give them their credentials? That kind of bums me out. I mean, we have Citizen Kane and The Godfather, but those aren't always fun movies. (Okay, The Godfather can be kind of fun, but I'm talking about truly enjoyable popcorn cinema.) Lone Wolf and Cub is popcorn cinema and almost nothing else. But The Dark Knight is popcorn cinema with amazing cinematography and decent themes. Heck, I'd even settle for Lord of the Rings, which is nearly considered beyond its genre. But how does Lone Wolf and Cub get lauded so highly. It's kind of filthy and that's weird.
I'm getting bummed out on this series. I mean, I'm getting bummed out on Zatoichi as well, but that's just because of a diminishing returns element to it. Lone Wolf and Cub is super gross. There's is only so much blood and rape before it makes you question why you are even watching these movies. If you aren't into deviancy, there's not much more to be offered. I want to get through the box set to see if the storyline actually closes up. Considering that Baby Cart to Hades lacked plot and character development altogether, I hope that the rest of the series focuses on the mythology. The itch I have at the back of my head is that this was cut together to make one movie: Shogun Assassin. There had to be a conclusion to that film, which makes me believe that there has to be the semblance of a narrative for the rest of the films. Mind you, it is going to be a while before I come back to this well.
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.