Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril is the fourth film in the Lone Wolf and Cub series. Following Sword of Vengeance, Baby Cart Across the River Styx and Baby Cart to Hades. Based in the acclaimed samurai manga by Kazu Koike and Goseki Kojima, the series tells the tale of deposed executioner Ogami Itto and 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.
Baby Cart in Peril, Ogami and Diagoro happen upon Oyuki, a woman on her own path of vengeance. Oyuki was taken from her clan and ushered into Lord Owari's select stable of female swordswomen. But, Lord Owari's sword master and Oyuki's trainer, Kozuka Enki, took advantage of her, defeating her with a some sword trickery and then raped her. She deserted, effectively signing her own death warrant. Tattooing her disgraced body with a mountain witch and kintaro (sort of a wild boy whose strength enabled him to fight demons), she now only lives to overcome the man who destroyed her honor.
This film is a good example of how these films were pretty much one continuous story. While the Oyuki plot is what distinguishes the film from the others, it is also resolved about an hour into the film, leaving the finale to return to the series main driving thread of Ogami Vs. The Yagyu. Furthermore, the Oyuki plot only takes up about a third of the film, the rest revolving around Ogami and Diagoro's travels.
While the arterial spraying bloodshed of the Lone Wolf and Cub films may get the most word of mouth, Baby Cart in Peril contains a tender sequence that proves the series is much more than bits of the old ultra-violence. An early sequence in the film finds Ogami and Diagoro separated. Gunbei, the Yagyu swordsman Ogami defeated in order to become the Shogunate's executioner, finds Daigoro and sees that the child's eyes hold the gaze of a killer. Gunbei follows the boy, eventually observing (through Daigoro fearlessly, in defense, holding up a stick like a sword) that he must be the son of Ogami Itto. Although he is facing an adult swordsman and he only has a stick, The son of Ogami Itto doesn't flinch. And, just as you feel your heart is about to break in half for the little guy, Ogami rounds the corner for the inevitable face-off.
That kind of touching moment, plus the dynamic between Ogami and Oyuki, two people sharing a code of redeeming their honor though it means steadily moving down a fatal path, carries the film along as much as the swordplay and carnage. Speaking of which, the film has plenty of that, including the trademark climatic battle against an army, this time pitting Ogami against the Yagyu in a series of gulleys that he must weave through while severing limbs and fighting for his life.
The DVD: Animeigo
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. Animeigo took their time with these releases and insisted to LWC fans that hey were rounding up the best prints they could. Well, I have to say, they definitely did. As a matter of fact, one sequence in the film, where a team of ninja surprise ambush Ogami in a temple, had me scourging into my vhs library to compare the prints. On the Animeigo vhs, the scene is dark and grainy, whereas on the improved DVD transfer, the scene is still shadow drenched because of the interior, but you see how the shots were designed to show you every snippet of the action clearly. Its no longer just a blur of falling bodies and severed limbs, and is now far more brutal because of the clarity and better sense of the pacing.
While there are the hallmarks of being a quickly executed (the six film series only took three years to make) 70's production, like grain and rougher camera work, Animeigo have clearly taken a good source element and spruced it up. For a film of its age, contrast, sharpness and color details look quite nice, and there is minimal print damage like dirt and spots.
Sound: Dolby Stereo(?), Japanese language with dual subtitle options (either dialogue and text translation or text only translation). While it is a two channel mix, each channel appears, to my ears anyway, to be exactly the same with little/no separation. Still, faux stereo or not, it does make for a fuller sound and is serviceable enough to ensure fans will be happy.
Extras: Chapter Selections— Excellent Liner Notes— Trailers for Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril, LWC: In the Land of Demons, Zatoichi At Large and Zatoichi in Desperation
Conclusion: It is a shame Anmiego has such poor cover art on such a fantastic action series full of operatic bloodshed and involving characters. But, inside, you'll find fine picture quality, good sound, and some spare but decent extras. Great series. Worthy transfer. If you call yourself a samurai fan, the series is a must.
You can have your James Bond series, your Indiana Jones, your Matrix, and even, yes, your Star Wars,... I'll take a Lone Wolf and Cub film over them any day.