August 22, 2011

Lone Wolf and Cub: White Heaven in Hell (1974)

Directed by Yoshiyuki Kuroda. Starring Tomisaburo Wakayama ("Ogami Itto"), Akihiro Tomikawa ("Daigoro"), Junko Hitomi ("Yagyu Kaori"), and Goro Mutsumi ("Ozunu"). Not Rated.

Source: Region 1 DVD (AnimEigo)
Running time: 01:23:28
Country: Japan

The LONE WOLF AND CUB series comes to a close in the sixth and final installment, WHITE HEAVEN IN HELL, also known as DAIGORO! WE'RE OFF TO HELL. In case you haven't been playing along at home, our lead character and former Shogunate executioner, Ogami Itto, has spent the entire series as a r┼Źnin (a wandering samurai with no allegiance to a particular clan), along with his young son Daigoro, whom he pushes around in a cart that doubles as a storage unit of various weapons, dead set on avenging the murder of his wife and killing those responsible for setting him up as a traitor to the Shogunate. Most of the time, however, Itto has been taking odd jobs as a killer-for-hire, encountering and defeating numerous villains in the process, all while dodging what seems like an endless amount of ninjas and samurai who were sent to assassinate him.

WHITE HEAVEN IN HELL is easily the stand-out film of the series, but not necessarily in a good way. This one focuses on Itto achieving closure and descending further and further into an allegorical netherworld, in which he'll surely come face to face with the person he's been desperately wanting to get his paws on throughout the series. As evidenced in the previous film, and especially this particular entry, the netherworld, of the "crossroads to Hell" as it's often referred to as, may in fact be the real deal and not as symbolic as one would have initially assumed it to be. In other words, this film and the series as a whole takes a surreal turn into supernatural territory.

Apparently the lead villain of the series, Retsudo, has been getting his chops busted by the Shogunate. They've sent many people to assassinate Ogami Itto and all have failed. Clearly out of options, Retsudo summons what appears to be the ghost of his bastard son, Hyoei, who oversees what I assume is a tribe of phantoms in the desolate Kiso-Ontake mountains. Hyoei basically tells his estranged father that he could care less about him or the clan he's associated with, but vows to kill Itto on his own terms nonetheless. Hyoei ressurects three of his finest assassins from the dead, and thus a hunt for Ogami Itto and his son begins. This is only about twenty-minutes into the film, mind you, and by this point we've already been introduced to ghosts and zombies. What ensues, for the most part, is a really slow and atmospheric hybrid of a samurai film and a horror movie... I think.

On a side note, Akira Ifukube's GODZILLA theme is used here not once, but twice, which further adds to the "WTF" nature of the film.

Is it safe to say that WHITE HEAVEN IN HELL "jumps the shark"? Yes, but seeing as I've never read the Manga, this could have been how the series was destined to play out right from the beginning. Whatever the case, the fact that this one goes a little overboard doesn't necessarily mean it's awful. It's quite good for what it is, actually, and the final battle sequence which takes place on the slope of a snow-capped mountain is easily one of the highlights of the entire series. Also, the film's final scene is wonderful, and when it was all said and done I couldn't help but be in awe of actor Tomisaburo Wakayama and how much of a fucking bad-ass he's been throughout the series. I found the supernatural elements, however, a little hard to digest, and there were certain moments or actions in the film that made no goddamn sense whatsoever. Despite the bizarre turn that the series ultimately takes, WHITE HEAVEN IN HELL is a mostly satisfying conclusion to an amazing series.

Click the links below to read my thoughts on the rest of the series:

Parts 1 2 3 4 5

Score: 7


  1. Excellent Aaron, I've really enjoyed reading your views on the whole series. I'm going to leave it a while but I may do the series sometime. What's next?

  2. Thanks! As far as samurai films? Most likely the ZATOICHI series, but that may not be for another month or so. I'd like to knock out a bunch of reader requests next, which I'm looking forward to. I can't wait to read your thoughts on the LONE WOLF AND CUB series.

  3. Samurai Swords, Very cool concept and reviews
    The work is very versatile, with so many concentrations intermingling
    Samurai Swords

  4. I didn't so much mind the supernatural ambiance since all the films have a slight touch of fantasy about them, but I do remember being underwhelmed by this last entry. I think I have the manga for this one, too. I'm tempted to dig them all out now! It would be interesting to know why they stopped here instead of doing more. Also, the actor playing the main antagonist whose after Ogami is played by a different actor here. I was always curious about that. I haven't watched these in some time but I can't remember the Godzilla theme being played. Your write ups have inspired me to go through the series again since it's been a few years. Btw, Ifukube did a wonderfully downbeat and somber score for the MAJIN series, a trilogy that mixed Chambara cinema with giant monsters and that score sounded a lot like his Godzilla work, too. When you do get around to checking out the ZATOICHI series, Aaron, keep in mind they're vastly different from the LONE WOLF movies. They're just as good if not better, just don't go in expecting graphic violence. When Toho took over the series the blood was increased, but still nothing like the LONE WOLF films. Katsu, who was Wakayama's brother, really made a memorable character that you can't help but fall in love with. Also, if you want more Wakayama, you can find him in the HANZO trilogy, the WICKED PRIEST series and also the ultra violent MUTE SAMURAI TV series. Japanese TV programs were a lot different from ours back then as they could show nudity and graphic violence with no problem.

  5. I never really thought about why they stopped here because I just figured that's just how it was supposed to be. Does the story go even further in the mangas?

    As far as the supernatural elements in this one, it's not that I didn't mind it, but I just wasn't expecting it to be as "out there" as it was in this one and it kinda caught my by surprise.

    Re: the GODZILLA theme - the first time it's featured in the film is between the 20 and 22 minute mark, right when Retsudo and his followers arrive at the mountains to summon Hyoei. It pops up again towards the end of the film, but I don't recall where exactly. It's only the first few seconds of the GODZILLA theme, mind you, and if it's in fact not the same song, it sounds VERY similar.

    Lastly, Wakayama is an actor whose films I'll definitely be seeking out from this point forward. He impressed me so much in these LONE WOLF movies that I've damn near developed a fascination with him as an actor. I'd like to see some of his more contemporary films as opposed to his period/samurai stuff.

  6. The only thing I recall seeing him in that was modern day is the fun as hell, sleazy sci fi spy exploitation flick ESPY from 1974. He plays the main villain in that one as this bizarre, slow talking super villain with ESP powers living in Dracula mode in a big spooky mansion.

  7. Oh man, that sounds too amazing to pass up. If I remember correctly, just from browsing his readily available films, he has a few crime/Yakuza flicks out there which I'd like to see sooner than later. I could be mistaken, though.

  8. My friend that runs far east flix is a huge Wakayama fan. I can see if he has anything with him in it that isn't available here in custom subbed format and modern day. The sad thing is that so much of what's available in Japan isn't English friendly at all.