Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades (1972) is the third film in the six part Lone Wolf and Cub series following Sword of Vengeance and Baby Cart Across the River Styx. Based in the acclaimed samurai manga by Kazu Koike and Goseki Kojima, the series tells the tale of deposed executioner Ogami Itto his quest for vengeance against the Yagyu Clan who framed him and murdered his wife. Now, a wandering sword for hire, Ogami and his son, Diagoro, stay on the move, hunted, living for the day when they might see their revenge.
While staying at an inn, Ogami (Tomisaburo Wakayama) and Daigoro happen upon a girl, Omatsu, who has been sold off to a band of outcasts because her family could not pay their debts. She fights off the advances of the man who bought her and kills him in the process. Ogami takes the girls burden upon himself and endures a form of often fatal torture in order to clear her debt. Impressed by his resolve, the outcasts hire him to kill a scheming deputy named Genba. After trying to persuade him, Genba confronts Ogami with an entire army and a swordsman named Kanbei, who Ogami previously opted not to fight out of respect for Kanbei's strict adherence to the bushido code.
Lone Wolf and Cub is my favorite film series, and, of all of the films, Baby Cart to Hades is the one I have watched most often. While the first two film were edited together and dubbed Shogun Assassin for their US release, this third film also had a limited vhs release called Lupine Wolf that I owned and steadily wore out.
This is exploitation in its highest form. Plenty of visceral action, tons of character, but also possessing moments of beauty and scenes that touch on the righteousness of the samurai code. While the film ends with a trademark of excess, Ogami Vs. an entire army, severing limbs and scattering their bodies in an open field, after this near ten minutes of non-stop bloodletting, the film finds Ogami facing one sole man, Kanbei, the samurai who has lost his esteemed rank but none of his pride. And, as they face each other, despite the dire intent of their fight, there is respect among these two men who follow a code tainted by the corrupt and powerful. Likewise, Ogami enduring the "buri-buri" torture for Omatsu, leaves little doubt of his tenacity.
As far as intimidating character actors go, Tomisaburo Wakayama's frown alone looks like it could shatter a rock if he stared at it long enough. Add to that gritting his teeth, unsheathing his sword, and attacking with deadly intent, and you've got a hero no one would want to cross. It is that character that informs every piece of action in the series, be it Ogami Vs. another serious swordsman, or an entire army of Yagyu flunkies. It is hard to imagine the immense spiraling vortex of badassness that would have been created if Lee Marvin, Sonny Chiba, Charles Bronson, and Tomisaburo Wakayama had a staring contest.
The DVD: Animeigo
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. While they don't win any points in the cover design graphics department, at least their transfer team gets some kudos for the job they have done with the film elements. I've got hundreds and hundreds of vhs, and the Animeigo Lone Wolf and Cub tapes were some of my favorites. That trend is even better with their DVD releases.
While there is still the hint of the films 30 year age, the trasnfer is about as flawless as you are likely to get. Contrast and grain elements are all in good shape. The sharpness and color betray the films age, but there are films only a year old that have gotten far poorer transfers. A great job, showcasing genre companies at thier finest, giving a little TLC to a film from the fringes.
Sound: 2 Channel Japanese with two English subtitle options- limited (text only) or full (text and dialogue). While I couldnt notice any seperation, the audio gets the job done. The aged audio may make the likes of a Fox, Celestial, or Megastar jump at remixing it, but I prefer my audio tracks to remain as original as possible, weakness and all. So, the music can be a tad tinny and the dialogue thin, but it is free of any glaring distortions or pops, so I am more than happy.
Extras: Chapter Selections— Program/Liner Notes. Some of the best liner notes in the DVD biz too, but then again, they were a company that included liner inserts with their vhs.--- Trailers for Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance, LWC: Baby Cart in Peril, LWC: White Heaven in Hell and Zatoichi At Large.
Conclusion: Really, this series is the perfect middle ground for the foreign film fan who also likes a good dose of exploitation. Animeigo drug their feet on releasing the series, but it was with good intentions and fine results. Pricey, but well worth it for the entertainment.