Much like the unbroken resolve of the unfeasibly stoic Lone Wolf (aka. ex executioner for the Shogunate and awesome/terrible parent Ogami Ittõ), the Lone Wolf And Cub series forged an impressive path back in the early 70’s. Not only did the Manga-based series kick off at the beginning in 1972 with Sword Of Vengeance, but its superlative follow-up, Baby Cart At The River Styx, soon followed mere months afterward. However, the only people who rest less than vengence consumed Ronin, apparently, iss the filmmakers who toiled furiously to release another, third installment by August of the same year and thus Baby Cart To Hades drew its blade and hurled itself into cinemas.
However, while the first movie clearly laid out the Lone Wolf And Cub’s origins and the second was stylistically stunning orgy of gouting blood and pointy weapons, Baby Cart To Hades changed tactics once more; after all, if our father and son team of mass killers is about to head metaphorically into Hell, then I guess matters should mirror that.
We pick up with triple-chinned master samurai Ogami Ittõ and his saucer-eyed child Daigoro as the continue on their seemingly aimless road on the Demon Path to Hell as they seek vengence on the shadowy Yagyū Clan and after taking a scenic boat trip and then taking time out to fillet a couple of stray ninja while the kid takes a crap, the two look for an inn.
On their way, however, they stumble across the inhumane deeds of a trio of watari-kashi (essentially hired goons) have perpetrated on the road out after they attacked and raped a couple of passing women out of sheer boredom. However, the fourth of their number is a Ronin named Kanbei who desires above all else a honorable death and after taking care of this unpleasant scene with ruthless simplicity (he kills the victims and then also slaughters one of his comrade to pin the entire crime on him), expresses his desire to duel Ogami to the death having recognised him from his executioner days. Ever the mysterious one, Ogami refuses and simply heads on his way, only for him and his son to wander into even more drama when they reach an inn where a young virgin sold into prostitution accidently causes her pimp to die of shock after she inadvertently bites his tongue off during a rape attempt. First offering her shelter and then taking on her brutal punishment in order to buy her her freedom, Ogami catches the eye of Torizo, one of the town’s athorities who also is the secret daughter of Miura Tatewaki, a man from the Ronin’s past who wants him to assassinate a rival governor.
This will prove to be harder than it sounds as not only does the target in question owns skilled henchmen and an armed entourage that numbers close to two hundred, but Kanbei also has aligned himself with their number in order to find that awesome death he’s set his heart on.
Right off the bat, Baby Cart To Hades feels pretty different to the two movies that precede it with the addition of some darker tones to the franchise thanks to some multiple uses of rape which sometimes borders on going full hentai or even going full BDSM. A young woman and her black toothed mother are ravished by a gang of thugs only to have the most honorable of their number murder them without hesitation, elsewhere a later scene that sees another young woman get attacked by her pimp may escape before the unspeakable deed is finished, but the local laws decree that she be viciously punished simply for the act of defending herself. Make no mistake, the world of Lone Wolf And Cub has always been a world cruelly devoid of genuine justice, but never has it been more brutally evident than in Baby Cart To Hades. I fully understand director Kenji Misumi mixing things up to make each installment feel a little different, but as a result it sort of works against the stylish gore of the previous flick and drains some of the fun out of proceedings. Similarly, the extended torture sequence that Ogami willingly puts himself through feels like something out of a Takashi Miike movie as our stern hero is hogtied and then repeated dunked upside down in a barrel of water before being beaten raw with sticks. However, Misumi tries to not let things get too grim, interspersing squirm inducing close ups of a tongue trying to forcefully the mouth of an unwilling victim with shots of nature or the impossibly innocent visage of Diagoro as he gawps his way through yet another bloodbath. Only, Diagoro, despite his angelic little features, isn’t particularly that innocent anymore and the little tyke is actively brought in to aid his old man as her performs his Spaghetti Western style brand of trickery to make sure they can continue on their path to vengence. Whole in films past, the toddler of terror has unknowingly aided his father in killing the living crap out of his enemies by pushing button in his booby-trapped pram or being used as a prop to confuse an attacker – however, here he fakes out one of the villain’s pistol packing henchmen by pretending to drown in a river that’s barely a foot deep. As he removes his weapons to try and save the child, Diogoro stands, coldly revealing the subterfuge just so his victim understands just how badly he’s fucked up before Ogami pops up to slice him a brand new orrifice.
And yet, for all of this added cruelty, Ogami strangely solves most of his problems by simply doing nothing at all, diffusing his initial encounter with Kanbei by simply refusing to fight and saving the young prostitute by weathering that truly epic beating. It’s here that the true moral of the movie is revealed as seemingly honorable men try to justify their brutal lifestyles in a world jam packed full of murder and rape and Kanbei’s persistent questioning of what truly constitutes the “way of the warrior” butting uncomfortably against Ogami’s own mission.
However, while the rather slower burning story means that Baby Cart To Hades is the least of the series so far, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t serve up those spectacular Lone Wolf And Cub highlights when the occasion demands and the climax in particular switches impressively into comic book insanity as our squinting protagonist takes on 200 men and manages to even the odds by outrageously revealing that Diogoro’s swiss army pram contains a lot more that hidden blades when the front drops out to reveal a bunch of fucking machine guns!
Still breathtakingly awesome, still overwhelmingly cool, but slightly flawed thanks to the inclusion of some sleezier aspects, the third adventure of Lone Wolf And Cub still brings the pain – but just maybe a little bit too much this time.