Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance

Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance (1972) movie poster

(1972) dir. Kenjo Misumi
viewed: 08/05/08

Based on a popular and influential manga of its day, Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance, is the first of a series of films that depict the roamings of a disgraced (through treachery) samurai and his toddler who rides in an old wooden pram as they wander Edo-era Japan, looking for work and revenge on the clan that framed him and murdered his wife.  I’d read the comics, some of them, when they were published in the U.S. in the 1980’s (back in my comic book days), and their imagery has always stayed with me: highly stylized black-and-white scenes of often wordless violence and striking compositions.

I think, in the 1990’s I rented one of the Lone Wolf films, but prior to the internet, information wasn’t as accessible or verifiable (probably still a debateable issue), and I am not even sure what I saw.  It was on a cheap video from Le Video, San Francisco’s one highly venerable video store that had lots of cult films and foreign films in bootleg forms.

Well, I committed to watching samurai films this year and was attracted back to this series.

It’s stylized to a degree, though nothing like Kihachi Okamoto’s The Sword of Doom (1966) or Kill! (1968).  Tomisaburo Wakayama, the Lone Wolf, is very good, the archetypical hardcore samurai.  And his son, the cub Daigoro, Akihiro Tomikawa is about the cutest freaking baby ever.

There are lots of blood geysers, spurting that thick bright red stuff.  Heads roll, limbs get lopped, someone even gets chopped at the knees.  And of course, no one comes close to touching the Lone Wolf.  He is honorable even in his descent into the netherworld outside of the duties of his former office as the high executionor for the shogunate.  There is a body count that is quickly lost track of.

One odd thing is that the Lone Wolf shields his son from only two things: a near rape and murder of a woman by some villains and then (while the boy is sleeping), his own sexual encounter with a prostitute (performed nobly to protect her from villians).  But the boy sees all the cutting, chopping, slicing, spurting, beheading, and even in certain circumstances is insinuated in it by the way his father uses him as a ploy.  It’s kind of like the MPAA: all violence and no sex.

The image of this stoic man with his sword contrasted with his bright-eyed charming little boy is striking, probably why it so quickly became iconic.  The film was good, though not top notch.  Maybe I was spoiled with some of my earlier samurai films.  They rushed through production, releasing 6 films in 3 years, 4 in the very first, 1972.

I’ll probably watch some more of them.

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