Following Sword of Vengeance, Baby Cart Across the River Styx, Baby Cart to Hades, Baby Cart in Peril, and Baby Cart in the Land of Demons, Lone Wolf and Cub: White Heaven in Hell is the sixth and final film in the Lone Wolf and Cub series. 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.
Following the death of his three sons, Yagyu Retsudo mounts his final stand against Ogami Itto. With no legitimate heirs to continue the family line and redeem it by deposing of the "lone wolf and cub", he employs his daughter, who has spent her lifetime training for the day that she can be used as an assassin. Retsudo also seeks out his illegitimate son, Hyouei, who was born from one of Retsudo's concubines and was banished into the mountains while still just a child. Hyouei was raised by the Tsuchigumo Tribe, a mysterious clan of outsiders who employ magic and trickery as their weapons. Retsudo's abandoned son has no desire to help his father (and who would?) and instead sets out to destroy Ogami Itto and Diagoro and use this as steeping stone for his people to overthrow the weakened Yagyu clan.
I've long said if you were to put a gun, or even a puppy, to my head and asked me what my favorite film series is, I would say Lone Wolf and Cub. But, every series has its sore spots. Star Wars fans must deal with Lucas lame Phantom Menace and Jar-Jar buffoonery, not to mention ewoks. Every Bond fan has to deal with the neutered Dalton Bond. This is also the case with Lone Wolf and Cub, which finds itself ending on, not so much a sour note, but not on the grand climax befitting the films that came before. While it is still a good film with some great sequences, it does sort of end on a whimper.
The bulk of the films were directed by samurai action master Kenji Misumi, but this final film finds fx guy Yoshiyuki Kuroda behind the camera. Yoshiyuki Kuroda doesn't have the same pedigree as Kenji Misumi and it shows (especially in Diagoro's Home Alone reaction shots). His most notable film is the kiddie kaiju b-flick Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare. While the film has some fantastic moments, including the duel between Ogami Itto and Kaori, the three burrowing Tsuchigoro tribe assassins, and an assault on Ogami in a marsh, overall it has a stitched together feel and lacks a smooth flow. The big finale, usually a highlight of the films, has a rather silly and less than stellar set-up: Ogami Vs. Retsudo and an army of skiing Yagyu ninjas, set on a snowy mountainside.
The DVD: Animeigo
Picture: Anamorphic Letterbox. Well, like all of their samurai releases, Animeigo have done a fine job with the source elements, and it is clear they didn't settle on anyhting but the best when tracking down subtitle stock for the DVD transfer. Sure, the film does show its age and budget, especially in the areas of grain and some minor spots here and there, but overall this is likely to be the cleanest print you will find. Sharpness, color, and contrast details are very well rendered. Samurai fans should be very pleased.
Sound: Dolby Stereo-ish, Japanese language with dual English subtitle options (dialogue and definitions or just definitions). The soundtrack si true to the films era and is pretty basic. There isn't really any separation in this two-channel track, but everything is clear and distinct with only the music and fx track having some tinniness.
Extras: Liner/Program Notes— Trailers for Lone Wolf and Cub: White Heaven in Hell, Zatoichi Vs. The One-Armed Swordsman, Lady Snowblood and Lady Snowblood; Love Song of Vengeance.
Conclusion: Okay, so the series doesnt quite end one the ultra-cool note it should. Still, it is only a testament to the films that came before that the final one, which is pretty good, looks lesser in comparison. Again, Animego does a fantastic job, proving they are one of those comanies who give their cult material the A-list treatment that it deserves.