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April 22, 2011

Movie Review: Lone Wolf and Cub Box Set (1972)

There have been so many famous fathers in cinematic history. On the small screen we've had Bill Cosby, Fred MacMurray and Bill Bixby. In film, there have been the likes of Chevy Chase playing Clark Griswold in the never-ending Vacation series and of course on the dramatic end of the spectrum, Henry Fonda as Norman Thayer Jr. in On Golden Pond. Unfortunatley, Tomisaburo Wakayama a.k.a. "Lone Wolf", star of the Lone Wolf and Cub Series gets left out of the equation. Does it really matter that Ogami Itto cuts and chops his way through foes pent on his destruction? Most importantly how about the valiant protection of his child that he rolls around from village to village avoiding the savage Yagyu clan. He sounds like a good dad to me.

Buy Lone Wolf and Cub Box Set on DVD!

Before Shogun Assassin became the influential samurai "grindhouse" classic that it's so deservedly was crowned by critics and fans there were six films in the Baby Cart series directed by Kenji Misumi. A six of the features have been carefully assembled in box-set form by Asian DVD powerhouse AnimEigo. The two films that were essentially the "highlight" reel that became Shogun Assassin, Sword of Vengeance and Baby Cart at the River of Styx kick off the set. The following four installments are also included Uncut and in their entirety – Baby Cart in Peril, Baby Cart to Hades, Baby at the River of Styx and finally White Heaven in Hell.

Even though Sword Of Vengeance and Baby Cart at the River of Styx pack the majority of the visceral punch with their non-stop sword-fights and duels - it’s not like it really slows down at all action-wise as we move into the other volumes. Numerous different set-pieces adorn each of the films (including an eye-popping scene with a top-less tattooed assassin). We do indeed experience a bit more welcome narrative during Baby Cart In Peril and Baby Cart to Hades but it surely doesn't effect the flow adventure Itto and his son are on.

Baby Cart in the Land of Demons and the finale, White Heaven in Hell bring the much anticipated showdown with our unstoppable hero, Itto and the evil Yagyu family. White Heaven in Hell is especially impressive with its gorgeous snowy locales. This just makes the arterial spray look that much more like morbid art on a snowy canvas. Itto may have also met his match with this one with the surprisingly imposing last hope for the Yagyu clan, Lady Kaori. This lady makes Uma Thurman in Kill Bill look like one of the Desperate Housewives. Watch out for falling daggers and grotesquely split craniums when she’s around. I really believe its imperative that if you plan on taking in the Baby Cart experience, watch them in order. You’ll thank me.

The packaging on the Lone Wolf and Cub set is pretty solid. Each film has an individual case and features some very detailed cover-art. In addition, all the films are thankfully subtitled very well. Several years ago after seeing Shogun Assassin I made it a point to enjoy the series in its entirety. Unfortunately all that was available were bootlegs of the films in their original spoken language, Japanese. Don't get me wrong I prefer it to dubbed but I had no idea some of the more intricate narrative that was going on aside from the samurai splatter and debauchery. AnimEigo does a kick-ass job on the subtitling and the translation.

Extras wise, there isn't a lot of material but what you do get are the original theatrical trailers. In addition to those trailers we are treated to previews for other AnimEigo releases such as Zatoichi Meets the Blind Swordsman and a big favorite here, The Lady Snowblood films. A commentary would have been cool with any of the surviving talent or even someone sharp on Samurai film history which AnimEigo has done on some of their other releases. I did enjoy the text liner notes that are included on each of the discs.

The audio and video quality is also an area of drastic improvement from the previously mentioned "imports" many of us collectors had to endure. The color correction is excellent and spot on with skin-tones and the night scenes looking remarkably better. The only thing I noticed was some minor print damage which really did little to take away what was onscreen. The pounding 70's soundtrack that resonates throughout each of the entries has never sounded this good either. Could we see a Blu-ray set in the future? One can only hope so especially with films that is so important to samurai cinema.

The Lone Wolf and Cub Box-set is a must own for anyone who enjoys samurai films or Asian cult films for that matter. Their presented beautifully in their original aspect ratios (2.35:1) and some tender loving care was put into the restoration of each of the films. Ogami Itto is a true weapon of slash-destruction! Highly Recommended!

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