Not rated, but this is a hard R if I had to ever give it one. The Lone Wolf and Cub movies are overtly violent and sexual. There's so much blood. Add to this one that there are a lot of elements of supernatural horror and it really locks in the R-rated. There's an incestual rape, which is a phrase that I wasn't really hoping to write about. This scene has nudity and violence. It's just a lot to take in. Again, while not rated, this is an R-rated film.
DIRECTOR: Yoshiyuki Kuroda
The last one is my favorite! I mean, I was hoping it was going to be a satisfying conclusion. I don't know if that's necessarily true. But the last entry in the franchise is the most pure. It's something that is engaging and summarizes everything that's kind of cool about the Lone Wolf and Cub movies. While I can't say that White Heaven in Hell is going to change anyone's minds about the Lone Wolf series, it definitely is super watchable and that might actually be because of how simple the movie actually is.
I think there's a hint of buyer's regret with my Zatoichi and Lone Wolf and Cub box sets. In fact, it's made me hesitant to buy the Godzilla Criterion box, despite the fact that my collectors' itch tells me that I would love having it on the shelf. The thing about buying a whole franchise of movies that were made within months of each other means that I tended to get a lot of movies that just kept doing the same thing over and over again. When I watched the first entry in the Lone Wolf and Cub movies, I was really excited. These movies were bloodbaths. It's not that I'm all about violence, but these movies seemed so free and so rebellious compared to the safer samurai films that I had taken in over the years. They were exploitative and focused on the movies being good times. After all, it's not like Ogami Itto just killed people with swords. No, he had a baby carriage that doubled as a machine gun and broke down into multiple weapons. It was super cool and shameless.
But there are six films. What ended up being a surprising departure for a type of film ended up being the same things over and over again. But to make there be some kind of sense of progression, these movies provided departures from the primary mission of Lone Wolf and Cub. Rather than simply journeying on the Demon Way to Hell, they would take on contracts. People would provide moral conundrums for these characters. They were plots forced upon these two that distracted them from their primary mission: vengeance. So when the last movie came out, it was something that returned to formula. I must be getting dumber, because I like how simple this movie was compared to the other entries. It was the good guy versus the big bad. It returned to what made the series important. We've been promised that there would be a reckoning and this is the movie that delivered on that promise.
See, Ogami Itto doesn't really get his revenge. From a certain perspective, he does make a satisfying dent. The movie vocalizes how much death he has dealt to the Yagyu clan. It's really one of those German emotions that shows how much pleasure one can receive from the misfortune of others. I'm sure that I could look it up pretty easily, but that would disrupt the flow. But Yagyu Kaori (I think I got the right one) gets away. What this ultimately leads to is something similar to Inspector Gadget. Dr. Claw is always going to get away and the rivalry will continue forever. For as much of a dent that Ogami Itto causes in this film, it is heavily implied that this isn't the end. The bad guy is going to form a new Yagyu clan and the cycle will continue. I think a lot of that comes from the fact that Lone Wolf and Cub was based on an ongoing manga. If the bad guy actually loses, what is Itto supposed to do? The Demon Way to Hell isn't supposed to simply be over. I always understood the Demon Way to Hell as something that was a suicide mission. Itto and Daigoro, father and son, were going to die avenging the family and the disrespect his family had gained. So to actually defeat the Yagyu means a lack of purpose. The story is over in a way that is not satisfying for Itto. For me, I'm sure that I would actually like the narrative to end with Itto Ogami ripping apart the head of the Yagyu clan. I mean, he gets his own super cart at the end of this movie. They are characters who are meant to be evenly matched.
And we know that storytelling would allow for the end of the Yagyu clan. Perhaps some people would argue against that point, which is fine. But I'm thinking of franchises that have the bad guy run off to start a new plan. There's the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, that killed off Shredder and still managed to tell new tales. Blofeld keeps on escaping James Bond until he didn't in You Only Live Twice. And what this creates is a sense of scope and awe of the villain. When the big bad dies, the labor pains of finding a new threat for the hero seems frustrating. But what it really does is provide a means to potentially find a new big bad. But even more of a silver lining to killing off a big bad is bringing them back. Despite the fact that I talk about the value of the comic book narrative, we have a tradition in comic books for heightened realities. We have retconning and magical abilities. The world of Lone Wolf and Cub is one where bizarre, beyond-belief things happen as commonplace. The idea of the head of the Yagyu clan coming back, despite being killed in a previous entry adds to the element of shock. We can get excited about something like this because we remember what kind of threat he presents. He has a personal connection to Itto Ogami and his son. That's something that only exists if he is beaten. Riding off into the snow is almost cheating the system a bit. Knowing that the journey is eternal is fine, but why does it have to be with this one guy? It becomes almost serialized camp at that point.
Again, I really liked this entry. But the weirdest thing about this one is the fact that Daigoro, the Cub element of Lone Wolf and Cub, had almost nothing to do in this movie. There's no real reason for him to be there. He sits by and watches for the most part. The cool thing about the movies that I didn't really get into is that they expanded the role of Daigoro so that he was as much of a boss as Itto Ogami was. But Daigoro has absolutely nothing to do. In fact, there was one moment that I thought that he should have been killed off because he was ignored for so long. It's odd because he should be more than set dressing for a winter theme.
But my favorite element of this one was the supernatural element involved. I think I preached about this in another entry for the Lone Wolf and Cub films. This one heavily invests in the idea that demons and spirits exist and they are can be used to fight the mortals. I adore really well done supernatural horror. It kind of changes the stakes because we understand that Itto Ogami can't be killed by a regular dude. So scaring him a bit gives the film the right amount of investment. There was a video game licenced version of Superman Returns. In that game, Superman couldn't be killed. That makes sense. Superman is always way too killable in these games. Instead, the health meter revolved around how safe Metropolis was. White Heaven in Hell kind of does the same thing. Knowing that Itto Ogami was such a boss, there is this weird torture that the demon guards put him through. Killing any innocent person who interacted with either him or his son really brings up this odd moral debate that the two go through. They aren't exactly moved to protect the innocent. While that happens to be a byproduct of their adventures, they never seem all that concerned about others. But in this one, the very existence of Lone Wolf and Cub leads them to be responsible by proxy for the people they interact with. Sure, there's rocket launchers involved. But it still tells a really cool story because the threat is so different from what they've dealt with in the past.
I don't love the cop out scene though. At one point, the illegitimate son of the Yagyu traps Itto Ogami in a swamp. That's the reason that the battle was set there. The entire thing was a trap. Itto falls for the trap. That was the point. We're all here to trap Itto and he just convinces you to have a fair fight? I mean, of course Itto Ogami is going to win. The reason that you were brought into this convoluted situation is because you knew how to trap him and take away his advantage. But then, you just gave it back to him? I don't even think that he was particularly convincing. Okay, that's my two cents on that scene. I just really wanted to see Itto Ogami in a dangerous situation and the movie went and undid it.
While I don't think I'd ever want to binge the Lone Wolf and Cub movies, I have to say that I had a good time watching them. Part of me is curious to watch the movie as Shogun Assassin, but I can't imagine how that movie would make a lick of sense. Regardless, I got my fill of sex and violence in Japan, so I guess I can start a new box set.
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.