As one of Japan’s preeminent samurai series, Lone Wolf and Cub, establishes itself as something of an outsider when compared to the samurai pictures of yore. The series – which in itself features a cast of characters abandoned by s...
As one of Japan’s preeminent samurai series, Lone Wolf and Cub, establishes itself as something of an outsider when compared to the samurai pictures of yore. The series – which in itself features a cast of characters abandoned by society or outright rejecting it – prides itself on its unabashed use of hyperbolic violence and doesn’t care who enjoys it. It’s out to make a statement and it’s not here to make friends.
When you watch the Lone Wolf and Cub films – which aren’t exactly long movies since each film has an average running time of 80 minutes – one of the most immediate things that become noticeable is how much they don’t feel like films. Yes, the production value is there but it doesn’t really ever feel like you’re watching a series of films. Seeing as the series is based on a manga series, each film feels episodic in nature with events and repercussions from previous films hardly carrying over into the next. Whether or not this can be interpreted as a critique on part of the series is entirely up to you but for this writer, it meant having to change my perception of the series. Much of my experience watching Lone Wolf and Cub felt similar to watching television shows and mini-series, and as such, I viewed Lone Wolf and Cub in that manner (which is probably the best to look at the series).
The first film in the series, Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance, can perhaps be considered the best of the series. It is in this film that we learn about Ogami Itto, the framed executioner turned assassin who vows vengeance against the Yagyu clan for disgracing his clan and murdering his wife. Together with his son, Daigoro, the two of them wander as steely-eyed assassins-for-hire, referring to themselves as the Lone Wolf and Cub. The reason why this film may be considered to be the series’ best is due to how emotionally resonant it is. This comes as a surprise, given the series’ renowned violence, but certainly gives you a reason to cheer for Ogami and rally against the Yagyu. The flashback scenes are handled quite delicately so as to extract maximum empathy (the scene where Ogami lets his then infant son, Daigoro, to choose between life as an assassin or death with his mother is particularly powerful). Unfortunately, the rest of the series never quite has restrained moments like these which is a shame considering that there’s probably a lot that could have been done to enhance the relationship between Ogami and Daigoro or given them depth. The end of the first film crescendos into a bloody brawl as Ogami kills off a bunch of bandits who had imprisoned him but his journey to vengeance is far from over.
As each series progresses, the basic outline of each film becomes more apparent; Ogami and Daigoro are hired to kill someone (or several people) where the final battle in the film usually ends in a bloodbath and stacked body count. To the series’ credit however, though it follows a formula of sorts throughout, it does so in a way where each new episode in the series feels fresh. Each situation feels different and the lead up to the final fights still becomes pretty exciting (even if some of the one on one fights are over in a matter of seconds). Part of this is because the Yagyu clansmen are still out to silence Ogami and his son as thatFor some though, the “monster-of-the-week” trope (in this case, the “monster-of-the-next-movie” trope) that’s often perpetuated in television may prove to be tiresome for those wanting to see something completely different or a change of pace. Repetition notwithstanding, Lone Wolf and Cub is a genuinely exciting series. The second film, Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx is great as it features a great fight between Ogami and three specialist assassins. The sixth film is also another standout and racks up an incredibly large body count – one of the largest I’ve ever seen on film by one man – with a final battle that looks stunning against the snowy backdrop.
If there’s one