Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance Review

Sword-of-vengeance-1972-poster.jpg
AKA: Lone Wolf and Cub, Kozure Okami: Kowokashi Udekashi Tsukamatsuru, Wolf with Child in Tow, Wolf with Child in Tow: Child and Expertise for Rent, Shogun Assassin
Genre: Jidaigeki/Ultraviolence/Martial Arts

Year Released: 1972
Distributor: The Criterion Collection

Origin: Japan
Running Time: 87 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: 17+
Related Films/Series: Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx, Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades, Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril, Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart In the Land of Demons, Lone Wolf and Cub: White Heaven in Hell, Lone Wolf and Cub (1973 TV series), Lone Wolf and Cub (1984 TV Movie Remake), Lone Wolf With Child: An Assassin on the Road to Hell, Lone Wolf and Cub: Final Conflict, Lone Wolf and Cub (2002 TV series remake), Lone Wolf and Cub (upcoming American remake)
For Fans Of: Throne of Blood, Zatoichi, The Virgin Spring, Rurouni Kenshin: Trust and Betrayal, Road to Perdition, Logan, Lady Snowblood
Notes:
-This review reflects the original Japanese uncut version. The Lone Wolf and Cub films were edited and dubbed under the Shogun Assassin moniker.

-The Criterion Collection DVD box set was used for this review.
Fun Facts:
-Lone Wolf and Cub is based on a manga series by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima. You might know Kazuo Koike as the creator to Crying Freeman, Lady Snowblood, and Samurai Executioner.

-Want to know some fans of the Lone Wolf and Cub series? Darren Aronovsky has admitted to liking Koike and Kojima’s project and even tried to get an American remake, yet failed. Two graphic novel artists have even admitted to liking his work. That would be Frank Miller of Sin City fame and Max Allan Collins who created Road to Perdition. Collins even admitted to calling Road to Perdition “an unabashed homage” of this manga/film series.

-Language bonus: The main character Itto Ogami’s own name is a wordplay to the title. His surname Ogami means “pray”, but if you swap out the G with a K, it becomes “Okami” which literally means wolf in Japanese. Since he’s a widower dad, it makes perfect sense for him to be codenamed as a lone wolf while his baby son Daigoro would be the cub in this metaphor.


Here I go again reviewing something from the seventies. It’s only the second time I’ve critiqued something from that time period as the first film I tackled was the French/Czech sci-fi animated film Fantastic Planet. I’m just doing my best reviewing movies regardless of the decade it was released in and it certainly came out a long time before I was even born. I also realized that it had been awhile since I saw some live-action samurai films with the last one being the criminally overrated sequel to Yojimbo known as Sanjuro (sorry not sorry, Kurosawa fans). I thought I would give myself a challenge by reviewing the original six films from Koike’s debut series to make things a little more exciting here at Iridium Eye. Hopefully, you haven’t been bored or confused despite all of the obscure things I review on this blog.

Onward, to the review!



Lone Wolf and Cub is a series taking place centuries ago in Edo-period Japan. There’s a former executioner by the name of Itto Ogami who wanders around Japan with his toddler son Daigoro. Both of them are codenamed “Lone Wolf and Cub” as they try to get money for their services which range from random odd services to assassination with the latter being Itto’s de facto specialty given his old job with the shogunate. In his backstory, Itto’s wife was slaughtered by the Yagyu ninja clan and they also frame him for wanting to overthrow the shogunate. Itto is fired from his executioner job and his family name has been shamed. Itto vows revenge against the Yagyu clan for murdering his wife even if it means following the “demon path in hell” in this savage world.

There’s just something cathartic about revenge films for me as disturbing as it sounds. It gives some needed face heat for the hero and a good reason why they have purpose in the story even though vengeance itself isn’t always the best thing to achieve (it’s something I’m still learning about). Lone Wolf and Cub certainly delivers in that regard with Itto just pulverizing anyone who dares stand in his way in the most gory fashion ever. His choice to take the demon path as a form of twisted righteousness was surprisingly believable as he knows about the future consequences of his actions in addition to being such a cold killer himself. These fight scenes are over-the-top in blood and the style of fighting involved, but they rarely get to wuxia levels where people are flying everywhere, so there’s some restraint. Yes, I understand the irony of calling Lone Wolf and Cub somewhat restrained despite the gore-fest it is, but at least most of the fights are grounded.

Itto is a complex anti-hero. Prior to this film, I couldn’t think of any single fathers going around killing people within proximity to their kids. That must have been quite novel doing that and you can see elements of papa wolf type characters in media such as Die Hard, Taken, and even The Punisher as the main characters get revenge on anyone that hurt or killed family members. The originality of the situation is something I do appreciate about him even though there are some disturbing elements to Itto’s character. He is just too stoic in most situations which most men would appreciate since he rarely ever emotes unless it’s anger or seriousness. Despite the comparisons of other action heroes, he’s different in various ways with him constantly in his son’s life, having unorthodox parenting methods to say the least, and Itto isn’t some typical six-foot-something guy with rock hard abs since he’s a bit overweight. However, he’s definitely taken seriously as an action hero.



Lone Wolf and Cub may have some fun action scenes and a sympathetic backstory with the main characters, but I couldn’t get into the hype of the inaugural movie in this series. The blood effects are incredibly dated much like Koike’s later work Lady Snowblood. The blood looks like red acrylic paint being poured around. I also had some severe umbrage with the Itto character for different things. In the first film, he never loses a fight let alone gets a scratch on him. He’s in full-on God Mode Marty Stu mode as he’s severing heads and taking names around. Secondly, he’s a character who’s willing to kill children. Don’t believe me? There’s an off-screen shot of him committing seppuku against a daimyo heir who doesn’t look that much older than his son Daigoro. Don’t even give me that “he’s only doing his job” crap. Do you really want to put the same words as the Nuremburg Trials like that? There’s the iconic scene of Itto putting his sword and ball on the ground for his baby son to choose. He’s barely old enough to talk and he had to pick between living in this demon path by picking the sword or being forced to reunite with his murdered mom should he have picked the ball. Dude, Itto. Calm down. Thirdly, during his visit at the ronin-ran hot springs, he is forced to be unarmed to gain the criminals trust. During that time, some of those same criminals gang rape a woman who is clearly within earshot of him, yet he did nothing. That really angered me as the gravity of the situation sunk in.



Lone Wolf and Cub was below mediocre for me and some thrilling fights didn’t change that. The production is certainly seventies material, but the blood effects were obviously dated for me. The background music is fine even though it gets a bit muffled with the older audio engineering. The Itto character is complex, but I found him to be unintentionally unlikable even though I’m supposed to care about him with being framed and with his wife being murdered. I didn’t like the start to this series, and I hope that Lone Wolf and Cub gets better after this overrated first film.


Adjustable Point System:
Add 2-4 points if you really like bloody action scenes.
Add 2-3 points if you’re a Kazuo Koike fan.
Subtract 1-2 points if you don’t like revenge films

Pros:

-Fun fight scenes
-Sympathetic backstory for Itto and Daigoro
-Decent cinematography

Cons:
-Itto’s protagonist centered morality
-God Mode Marty Stu tropes on full display
-Dated blood effects

Final Score: 3/10 points

Content Warning: It’s a Kazuo Koike creation, so there’s no way this would ever be for kids. The fights are extremely gory as people are beheaded, dismembered, and are bleeding buckets throughout the film. There’s nudity with an insane woman breastfeeding Daigoro and there’s a sex scene with Itto sleeping with a prostitute. I did have an issue with Itto killing a child off-screen and that fridge horror just sinks in as part of his duties as a shogunate executioner. Oh yeah, there’s some swearing and some double entendres, too.

-Curtis Monroe

All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Lone Wolf and Cub is property of Kazuo Koike, Toho, and The Criterion Collection. The film poster is from Wikipedia and is property of Toho.

10 comments

  1. I hear about Darren Aronofsky being influenced by Japanese media quite a bit, now that you mention it. Black Swan is pretty much Perfect Blue, after all. Obviously you weren’t really a fan of the film in the end, but I’m kinda curious – do you think an updated Hollywood version by him would have worked?

    Liked by 1 person

    • That doesn’t surprise me. Not only was Black Swan heavily influenced by Perfect Blue, but he bought the right to Satoshi Kon’s debut film so he could recreate the “girl screaming in a bathtub” scene for Requiem for a Dream. At least he gives credit to the original Japanese animators unlike certain other famous movies I could mention. Haha! I also reviewed Perfect Blue, by the way.

      I wonder if him remaking the movies would’ve worked. The Lone Wolf and Cub series is quite dark which can play on Aronovsky’s strengths, but I wonder if he could really pull off the cultural aspects. There have been remakes in Japan and I might check them out in the future. I would also like to read the original manga because (spoiler alert!) it goes farther than the original 6 films.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I knew the screaming bathtub scene was a nod to Satoshi Kon, but I didn’t realize he bought the actual rights! That’s really interesting. I wonder if, had he made the remake, if he would have actually cast a Japanese actor or if he woulda cast Jared Leto or something instead haha. That seems to be the Hollywood way

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yup. I bought the rights to that movie just so he can recreate that scene shot for shot, but in a live action way. He can still legally make a remake to Perfect Blue since he still has the rights to it. If there was a Lone Wolf and Cub remake that he directed, it would make more sense to go with a Japanese actor and make it have the same setting. There’s the argument about Americanizing the plot, but it would be really rough given US cultural aspects and there’s the existence of Road to Perdition.

        Like

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