Saturday, August 21, 2010

Summer Of Samurai: Lone Wolf And Cub Baby Cart At The River Styx

Any series that runs long enough, often ends up being judged not by the new things it does, but how well it does the same old things. While improvisation and innovation are always rewarded, I’d be lying if I said I watched The Lone Wolf And Cub films for their graceful plotting and keen eye for character.

This is all a very round about way of saying that though I consider the second Lone Wolf And Cub, Baby Cart At The River Styx to be the best of the series, I’m harder pressed then usual to tell you why.

To be sure Baby Cart At The River Styx features all the usual pleasures of The Lone Wolf And Cub series. Magnetic performances from its two principles, an audacious and at times frankly beautiful shooting style, creatively choreographed yet beautiful fights and shots and imagery with such a strange hallucinogenic feel to them that they break the genre mold and often seem closer to the likes of Jodorowsky (Witness the blood pooling from beneath the sand in the foiling of a desert ambush). So is it enough to say that Baby Cart At The River Styx is a “better” film than the rest for no other reason then it hits its marks abnormally well? Perhaps its cynical but yes. Baby Cart At The River Styx may just be going through the paces, but you’d never tell. And if you only make time in your life for one Lone Wolf And Cub Movie (Poor fool) make it this one.

Baby Cart At The River Styx begins with the attention grabbing image of Ogami Itto chopping a man’s head in half length wise. The poor bastard manages to tell Itto that an army of assassins are coming to kill him and his son, of which he is merely the first.

(Ogami Itto Don't Fuck Around. When You Absolutely Have To Kill Every Mother Fucker In The Room... Accept No Substitutes.)

The Uber Stoic Itto responds with his usual amount of alarm, which is to say, he promptly goes and gets himself hired by a dye maker.

It turns out said dye maker’s monopoly is threatened. So Itto does exactly what you or I would do when faced with a threat to a monopoly on dye. Namely he kills just about everything that ever walked or crawled. All while fending off assassins and melting the cold heart of the woman sent to kill him.

The Film features some of the series most colorful assassins. Which is saying something. Including, An army of monks three master killers who will look awfully familiar to any fans of Big Trouble In Little China and a team of female ninja’s who cut the limbs and latex face off of a poor bastard ronin, in order to show their chops (wah-wah-wwaaaaahhhh) in one of the film’s most unbelievably gaudy sequences.

Of course the film features many unbelievably gaudy sequences, parts that would be the highlights of lesser films, including a disorienting bit at a carnival in which a series of brightly colored acrobats come for Itto. An action scene aboard a burning ship that’s just freaking impressive. And the aforementioned desert climax that has a real and strange beauty to it.


Neil Fulwood said...

I have to confess that I've seen very few of the films you've featured so far (though my interest in a number of them has been piqued), so it was with a nostalgic burst of pleasure that I read your review of 'Baby Cart at the River Styx' (surely one of the greatest titles in the history of cinema!) and remembered renting this in a heavily cut, pan-and-scanned version on, I think, the Vipco label years and years ago. It was a grainy print, the colours desaturated, but the charisma of the protagonist and the crazed energy of the set-pieces were undiminished. Good bonkers fun and one of the first truly offbeat movies I ever rented.

Matt Keeley said...

I started watching Shogun Assassin one day at work a few summers ago, but I never got around to watching the entire film. Perhaps I should buckle down and watch the real thing – all six films?

Do you know if the Lone Wolf and Cub manga is any good?

I trust we can expect some Kurosawa reviews down the line? Or at least Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo?

Bryce Wilson said...

@ Neil: Glad to here it Neil. This film is just so vivid. Talk about your perfect gateway drugs.

@ Matt: Yeah, and its really worth it to seek out The Lone Wolf and Cub cuts though as opposed to the Shogun Assassin ones.

Because of the profiligation of so many versions, edits and recuts, not to mention how perversely difficult it is to find a legit copy, no one should feel all that guilty about resorting to Bit Torrents with this one.

And yes to both of the below questions.