Unrated. But let's call a baby carriage that transforms into weapons a baby carriage that transforms into weapons. This movie is SUPER R. Like...all the R. You know what? I'm going to break my own rule and color this red.
DIRECTOR: Kenji Misumi
Okay, be ready for a much grumpier tone. I wrote a tank of a review. A. Tank. And then it all vanished. I don't know what I clicked. If you think I clicked "Cut", I did not because there was no "Paste" to follow it up. It just doesn't exist anymore. But I'm going to try to capture the spirit of the original review but add some more insight. Either that, or I'll get really bored and just give up with "Swords are fun."
Last night, my wife had her girls' group. Apparently, I'm a husband and am not allowed to enjoy sea salt caramel dark chocolate and gossip, so I was exiled to the basement where I watched a whole bunch of Japanese ultraviolence. That really worked out for everyone because I'm pretty sure that Lauren wouldn't be down for a phenomenal amount of Japanese ultraviolence. The best part is that she bought me this box set! I love how many of my Christmas gifts are some of the most offensive things imaginable. I need to tweak my Amazon wishlist...or do I?
To really appreciate this movie, you have to know a little bit about its background. Back when I was working at Thomas Video (another one of these stories!), people used to rent out Shogun Assassin all of the time. Shogun Assassin is one of the most violent Japanese movies I can think of because it is an amalgamation of all of the movies in the Lone Wolf and Cub series. The way I understand it is that they cut these into two movies. Japan is really into serialized movies. They make multiple movies within the same franchise within the same year. It's something to behold. Also, one day I'll finish my Zatoichi the Blind Swordsman box set, but that's just my brain making connections. Lone Wolf and Cub was an extremely violent manga series in Japan at the time and took the samurai genre to a new level of insane ultraviolence. Of course, Japan knows how to tell a story and there are long periods of walking and plot, so America had to cut all that out and just so needless violence from six movies back to back. (I wrote this way better the first time, but I refuse to take a third pass at this. My day has been consumed by this review..)
The biggest weakness that I bring to being a fan of samurai films is that I always forget how Japanese class structures worked. By the end of the movie, I always kind of get it, but I'm no way an expert. The good news is that these movies often telegraph who the bad guy is. I know what misdeed was done in this film, but I only have a small indication to why they did it. I thought I started to really grasp the power dynamic, but then it all got turned on its head with one scene with Ogami Itto wearing an outfit that wasn't allowed to be attacked. I don't get it, but whatever. The movie is fine if it simply becomes the hero v. everyone else. Lone Wolf and Cub probably suffers most from the aimlessness of the protagonist. This is the first movie of a six movie series. This is a great origin story, but the actual goal is something that completely hits the background of this tale. We know the purpose of the wandering ronin and the child, but he really does nothing to advance that plot. Rather, we are given a glimpse into the life of a ronin who can pretty much kill anything.
The world of Lone Wolf and Cub is something really bizarre. The movie establishes the surreal tone early on with the appearance of a madwoman demanding to breastfeed the samurai's child. The characters accept this as commonplace and that's an interesting way to start a movie about absolute madness. No one really reacts rationally in this world and this moment establishes that as the world that meant to be inhabited. I have to applaud director Kenji Misumi for taking such a broad stance. Again, he's adapting a famous manga and many directors have tried to capture the bonkers world of the funny pages, often unsuccessfully. I can't help but think back to Joel Schumacher's Batman Forever and how it completely immerses itself in what it thinks comic books is like. Comic books are only a medium sure, but they do often have a heightened sense of reality. The audience must bring a sense of open mindedness to these worlds, but Misumi lets the audience to know what to expect. While not anywhere near the most troubling or bizarre thing that this movie presents, it definitely establishes the rules of this world. On top of that, Misumi does something even cooler with the editing and sound of this film. The movie almost uses subliminal / strobe like effects with many of the suspenseful moments. As a guy who watches quite a few samurai films, I have to guess that Misumi is simply trying to cordon off his film as something more unique than those of his predecessors. The cool thing is that none of that is really needed considering the brutality of the Lone Wolf and Cub movies, but it does help that he's not taking the easy way out.
The 1970s have a very specific look to them in terms of colorization. The movies are both vibrant and bleak. Watching this on blu-ray was a heck of a choice because the colors just pop. It is almost otherworldly with the opening just screaming color. Yeah, this is stupid of me to point out, but the very red-paint blood of the 1970s sticks out even more, which I always find cool.
I know I'm beating a dead horse (what a way to start a paragraph about violence!) but this movie is violent without apology. Within one movie, I became desensitized to how violent it really was. Trying to find a still for this review, I found this beautiful evening shot of Itto against the sunset and I almost posted it. But I was so broken as a human being that I didn't even take note of the recently decapitated foe squirting blood in the foreground of the image. The movie just bathes in blood and perhaps that's not a great thing. The movie is definitely in the guilty pleasure category, but it isn't cheap altogether. I will never say that this movie takes the high road, but the story has merit and there is a fair bit of pacing here that takes its time. But then it just provides macho unreality and I don't really feel like apologizing for that. Yeah, this movie couldn't exist today unless Quentin Tarantino took a shot at it, but the movie is enjoyable. It kind of falls into the same category as James Bond. I have a love for these movies, but I acknowledge that they can appear very chauvinistic and made for man children. But I do unironically love these kinds of movies and I'd hate to see them disappear. Perhaps I need to watch them in small doses, but I do like them. But let's be as clear as possible. I only recommend these movies to the troubled. If you aren't into these kinds of movies, please don't start. There are healthier outlets out there. Honestly, there are so many great movies in the world that you can go your entire life without seeing a Lone Wolf and Cub movie and still be a film powerhouse. I enjoy it, and I don't expect you to.
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.