Lone Wolf And Cub: White Heaven In Hell


After cranking out five films in a little under two years, the landscape that lay behind the scenes of the Lone Wolf And Cub series was undergoing some turmoil. For a start, the series had caught up with the Manga the movies were based on and thus, much like Game Of Thrones, now had to go it alone without a script by co-creator Kazuo Koike. Secondly, director Kenji Misumi who had been responsible for helming four out of five installments had desided to step down, claiming the story now felt “‘much like a Western” and even the original producer had jumped ship a movie ago, leaving star Tomisaburõ Wakayama as the sole, veteran member of the cast and crew with any say over what would come next.
Seeing his chance, Wakayama immediately started pulling rank and made sure the sixth (and ultimately final) big screen adventure of the Lone Wolf And Cub would be the sort of wild, epic ride he’d wanted to make right from the start, randomly chucking snow and zombies into the mix.


After five movies of having Ogami Ittõ and his infant son, Daigoro virtually shred all of his henchmen and heirs into bloody confetti, arch mega-bastard Retsudo now realises that his resources are running worryingly thin. Mulling over the slain bodies of his sons who fell before Ittõ’s vengeance, Retsudo now places the fate of the entire Yagyū clan in the dexterous hands of his knife juggling daughter, hoping she’ll bury a dagger in the head of his hated foe. However, after she metaphorically plays checkers while her enemy plays chess, she fatally succumbs to the kind of outside-of-the-box shit the Lone Wolf usually uses to outwit his would-be killers and Retsudo is left no choice but resort to even more desperate means.
Approaching his illegitimate son, Hyouei, who runs the black magic practicing Tsuchigumo clan and urging him to annihilate Ogami and Daigoro, the one-eyed old fuck is horrified to learn that his equally mean spirited bastard only wants to take on the task in order to bring ruin to his father’s clan.
Immediately choosing to utilise his funky, supernatural abilities, Hyouei resurrects three of his men who have reached a state of undeath thanks to being buried for forty days and have obtained freaky superpowers. Using their talents of levitation and *checks notes* burrowing like a mole (?), the three henchmen wage a campaign of terror on the assassin and his adorable spawn by slaughtering everyone who shows them kindness, thus limiting their chances to find food and shelter.
However, on top of all this, the order has gone out to all the remaining clan groups to hunt and kill the Lone Wolf and Cub, meaning Retsudo has to make one last, all-out attack in order to slay our heroes and save face.
Ittõ, Daigoro and their lethal baby Cart, beg to differ.


White Heaven In Hell spelt the end of the Demon Road to Hell for our dissecting duo, but not for the reason that some franchises are halted before their story has come to natural conclusion. Rumour goes that star Tomisaburõ Wakayama became incensed about the success of his franchise birthing a Lone Wolf and Cub TV series and quit under the pretence that no one should play Itto but him and so that was the final nail in the coffin. However, despite taking a rather random leap into the realms of the supernatural, White Heaven In Hell manages to end the series with a certain amount of style thanks to the efforts of director Yoshiyuki Kuroda who was responsible for the final two movies of the Yokai Monsters trilogy and was the director of special effects on the Daimajin films, who brings his fantasy/horror credentials to the fold in a way that’s oddly not that intrusive even though we now have characters who hover three feet off the ground and slide into the ground like a snake.


Aside from this new wrinkle, the rest of the film follows the dual plot approach the other movies have had with the nefarious plans of both villains finally merging into one at the end with truly spectacular results. The first half of the flick sees the series’s arch villain Retsudo hurl yet more of his brood into the human grinder that is Ogami Itto, but the fact that he’s finally running low on cannon fodder gives the vicious old bastard something more to play with emotionally than just being sinister as he resirts to desperate measures to try and strengthen his ever weakening grip. This ushers in plot number 2, with his illegitimate son tagging in and leading his mountain clan into the fray and his style of separating the Lone Wolf and Cub from the general public lest they are butchered with a silent arrow in the throat play right into Kuroda’s horror experience with Itto discovering the entire population of the hotel he’s been staying in has been silently killed is like some dropped a samurai into the final reel of a slasher flick. Similarly, the off-screen murder of a kindly man giving out candy memorably ends with his colourful hat floating down a stream with one of his severed hands along for the ride, but a moment where a polite woman is suddenly obliterated by an exploding rocket is good for some unexpected belly laughs. However, the series still keeps its inherent nastiness in an unforgettable moment where a fatally wounded Hyouei rushes back to his father’s home and desperately tries to rape his sister in order to produce an heir before he bleeds to death, but his frenzied attempts fail when the sister demands Retsudo kill them both to satisfy her honor, which he does, impaling them both while they both lie there. Talk about complex family dynamics…
Still, as always, Itto gives as good as he gets and as the film approaches its impressive final reel, his acts of spellbinding swordplay causes blood to spray about the place like gruesome confetti and the snowy back drop to the later scenes make the occasion bisection or cleaved face all the more striking.


The Lone Wolf And Cub films have always traded in comic book style set pieces that are reliably larger than life, but even by the franchise’s over exagerated standards, White Heaven In Hell probably has the finale to beat them all. Essentially dumping Ogami and Daigorro in the middle of an arctic wasteland and surrounding them with an army of hundreds of samurai on skis and waving swords, the film has the gargantuan scale of Connery era Bond movie that uses its location to breathtaking effect. Mowing down the first wave with machine gun fire from his gadget-laden baby cart, Ogami then reveals it now also doubles as a sled and whizzes down the mountain, slicing up men as he goes. It’s a rousing finish to the franchise and even though Ogami never gets his revenge as Retsudo speeds off on his sled, making his getaway like the villain of an 80’s cartoon show, it oddly feels right that his story never actually ends, adding to the mythic status of this unforgettable series.


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