August 7, 2011

Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance (1972)

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
Country: Japan

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.

Score: 8


  1. Good stuff all of these, Aaron. Some are better than others. Misumi did some other good movies, too. Wakayama is great in the MUTE SAMURAI series and he played a great villain in the sci fi/spy exploitation flick ESPY (1974).

  2. Thanks for the tips, Brian. The plan is to review the entire LONE WOLF series, but we'll see how it goes. I really need to brush up on my 70's Asian cinema in general. Do you have a favorite film of the series?

  3. BABY CART AT THE RIVER STYX is a fave of many and I like BABY CART IN PERIL as well. The sixth film is probably the least of them, at least to me. I have a bunch of the manga's, too. The LONE WOLF films are usually the starting point for a lot of people interested in Chambara movies it seems. Granted, there's only a handful of these movies that have that kind of excessive blood and guts. Others were gory, but not on the level of the LW&C series. The TRILOGY OF BLOOD series is similar, too. The HANZO trilogy is quirky as all hell and has some splattery stuff, but it's the outrageous premise that makes those entertaining.

  4. Love the Lone Wolf and Cub series, Aaron. You're in for a real treat the rest of the way, I believe. I enjoy all of the films for their specific reasons, but I think my favorite is Baby Cart in Peril. Good stuff.

  5. Great stuff Aaron, another vote for Baby cart in peril from me. Looking forward to the rest.

  6. Thanks for the feedback, guys. Definitely looking forward to watching the rest of the series, and especially BABY CART IN PERIL now.