Directed by Kenji Misumi. Starring Tomisaburo Wakayama ("Ogami Itto"), Fumio Watanabe ("Sugito"), Tomoko Mayama ("Osen"), and Shigeru Tsuyuguchi ("Matsuki Junai"). Not Rated.
Source: Region 1 DVD (AnimEigo)
Run time: 01:23:13
A widowed samurai embarks on a quest of vengeance with his infant son in tow.
"Between fire and water lies the white road, and I shall follow it... no matter where it takes me... even if I become a corpse... or ashes... I shall have my revenge one day!"
Based on a popular Manga, SWORD OF VENGEANCE is the first entry in the six-part LONE WOLF AND CUB series, which follows a rōnin and former Shogunate executioner, Ogami Itto, as he attempts to avenge the death of his wife. Itto's wife's death was part of a bigger scheme which involved setting him up as a traitor, and in a sense forcing him to relinquish his position. Instead of doing the "samurai" thing by accepting his fate, Itto does something dishonorable by refusing to commit harakiri and spitting on the face of shogun tradition in the process, accepting his existence as a nomadic "demon", whose sole purpose is vengeance. That's some heavy duty shit right there. At one point Itto was even willing to murder his own infant son, but spared him by letting him choose his own fate:
"If you choose (the sword), you'll travel the road of the assassin, with me. If you choose the ball, I will send you to be with your mother."
SWORD OF VENGEANCE is more or less an extended first act of a really long film that spans out over six parts, but instead of focusing primarily on exposition and whatnot, it features a sub-plot that ties into Ogami Itto's status as a rōnin who offers his services as a killer-for-hire. While traveling with his son, he meets the chamberlain of a samurai clan who wants to utilize his services, with hopes that he can eliminate a group of criminals who are in a position to compromise the clan's future. Itto accepts and - to make a long story short - a whole bunch of bad-assery ensues. Swordplay, geysers of blood, gratuitous female nudity, and decapitations galore? Yes, sir.
As with most quality period Japanese films, SWORD OF VENGEANCE looks absolutely stunning. Great sets and costume design especially. This a film with effective juxtapositions: the serene and orderly aesthetic of Japanese villages contrasted by carnage, a deadly assassin contrasted by an innocent child. Speaking of which, the great thing about the character of Ogami Itto is that instead of the filmmakers trying to instill this idea that he's a bad-ass and basically force-feeding him to the audience, they SHOW you why he's a bad-ass. Sure, they tell you that he's a master swordsman, but when you see him single-handedly slay groups of people with ease - in some cases with a baby strapped to his back, and in one case while sitting down! - it becomes crystal clear that Ogami Itto is an anti-hero who's not to be fucked with.
The film slows down a bit towards the back end, but for the most part there's very little fat to speak of here. Overall, it's a gorgeous film with an engaging story, a high body count, and a great performance from actor Tomisaburo Wakayama, who plays Ogami Itto with an unrestrained intensity.