How does one write something about the Lone Wolf and Cub movies?
This series of six movies, starting with Sword of Vengeance, the Japanese title of which is "Child and Expertise for Rent", based on the manga series by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima. The first four are from screenplays by Koike. The fifth, Baby Cart in the Land of Demons, the Japanese title is simply "Land of Demons", was co-written with Tsutomu Nakamura, after which Nakamura concluded the series writing.
The first four are brilliant beyond my ability to write.
The original comics has a real sense of lessons in Feudal Japan, and while the movies put more focus on driving the stories forward and the action set-pieces that seem to owe more than a bit to James Bond movies and Sergio Corbucci westerns, the first four definitely have strong roots in that world and ways to explore how it works.
Baby Cart in the Land of Demons is the first that seems more focused on the action at the expense of exploring the world and the characters, but it's hardly a misstep, being nearly the equal of the preceding movies in nearly every way.
Worth noting that much of the success of the movies rests on the shoulders of stars Tomisaburo Wakayama and Akihiro Tomikawa, as Ogami Ittō, the assassin known as Lone Wolf and Cub, and his young son, Daigoro.
Wakayama would seem a strange choice to get the lead in this, less handsome and athletic than the character appears in Kojima's art, if you look closely, he almost looks like a Japanese Walter Matthau, although I'm partly influenced by his co-starring role in The Bad News Bears Go To Japan conceiving of that reference. He brings more than enough gravity and athleticism to the role, not to mention absolutely amazing charisma.
To my American, English speaking resources, it seems Tomikawa never acted outside this series, which is a shame because he gives one of the finest child performances I've ever seen. In the adaptation of the "Parting Frost" tale from Lone Wolf and Cub - Volume 4: The Bell Warden, he captures the look of "Shishogan", the look of a hardened warrior, that's supposed to be in his eyes, but also does wonderfully with the innocent moments of childhood fascination with carnivals and candy.
All I can think to do at this point is to show the trailers for my favorite and least favorite of the series. Unfortunately these versions are in Japanese with no subtitles, but I suspect most of you will catch all you need.
Baby Cart in Peril, the Japanese title is "The Heart of a Parent, the Heart of a Child", is, as I said, my favorite and the one that features the adaptation of "Parting Frost".
White Heaven in Hell, the Japanese title is "Let's Go To Hell, Daigoro!", is, as I said, the least of the series. Too much action, not enough story, and the "rules" that felt firmly established in which Ogami Ittō met swordsmen with swords and gunmen with guns are way, way out the window, and yet...
Yep. My least favorite of the series has skiing Ninjas! That is absolutely how cool this series is.
And I haven't even mentioned the music. I really need to get a copy of The Best of Lone Wolf and Cub so I can revisit those excellent and eclectic themes by Hideaki Sakurai, especially during creative times.