Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in the Land of Demons (1974) is the fifth film in the Lone Wolf and Cub series, following Sword of Vengeance, Baby Cart Across the River Styx, Baby Cart to Hades, and Baby Cart in Peril. Based on 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.
Ogami Itto is challenged by a man wearing a veil featuring the Beasts of Hell. Defeating the attacker, the man informs Ogami that he is one of a series of men sent by the Kuroda House to test the former executioner; identified by the Beasts of Hell veil, each one will reveal more of his assignment and turn over payment for his services. As he slices his way through the retainers, Ogami learns of the House of Kurodo's big secret, a slight so grand it could put the house in ruins. It seems Lord Kuroda is keeping his real son/heir in hiding and is using his daughter (the product from a concubine) to masquerade as his son in public. He detailed all of this in a document that he entrusted to Abbot Jikei. But as the document was en route, Kuroda discovers that the monk is not trustworthy. Abbot Jikei is actually in league with a network of ninja and Ogami's nemesis Yagyu Retsudo and the two men conspire to destroy Kuroda House. Ogami's mission is to intercept Abbot Jikei, kill him, and get the document. However, even if Ogami is successful, the Kuroda clan doesn't want anyone to know their secret and that includes the lone wolf and his cub.
The next to last Lone Wolf and Cub film is one of the better entries- solid action, neat story, and the more fragmented storytelling (a result of adapting the comic, selectively lifting bits from the much longer narrative) works quite well. Alongside the Kuroda clan mission and Ogami's ongoing feud with the Yagyu is an interlude with Diagoro and a lady pickpocket. Ogami and Diagoro pass through a town holding a festival, and , as she is eluding the constables, a pickpocket hands off a freshly stolen wallet to Diagoro. The law enforcers try to pressure the boy to reveal the woman's identity, but he promised to be silent. Even as he is publicly beaten in an effort to draw out the thief, the resolute boy remains tight-lipped. Ogami doesnt interfere- though we know he could hack his way through the crowd, the series has taught us that lesson well. Instead he looks on, impresseed with his tiny son's composure and willpower.
I'm a big fan of this series simply because it strikes such a great balance between exploitative action, subtle character work, and traditional period drama, like the feudal society politics of the Japanese clans. You get a little taste of everything in a brisk hour and a half. And through it all, you've got a lead who makes you believe he could wade through an army, stone-faced and determined, to get his revenge.
The DVD: Animeigo
Picture: Anamorphic, Letterboxed. Again, a great job with this series. While still showing some signs of its age in terms of grain and other testy marks of 70's film production, the print is fantastic and bears very little wear save a brief, blink and you'll miss it, bit of dirt here and there. The color is vibrant, especially those arterial reds, and the contrast is nice and deep. You cannot ask for a better picture. Well, maybe you can, but it wold be pointless.
Sound: Dolby- well, it says "stereo", but it sounds like a dual mono mix, so I'll just call it a two channel mix. Japanese language with dual English subtitle options (either full dialogue and terms/definitions or just terms/definitions). Well, the original mono source does shows its age a little bit more. The range of dynamics is pretty limited, with the score and sound fx coming across as pretty flat during the more bombastic moments. Though, the presentation is as good as it is likely to get, and, thankfully (listen up all you 5.1 remixers out there!) remains true to the material.
Extras: Excellent Liner/Program Notes— Trailers for Lone Wolf and Cub: In the Land of Demons, LWC: White Heaven in Hell, Lady Snowblood and Zatoichi's Conspiracy.
Conclusion: Get it. A great samurai film series that roars full-tilt with action as well as understated character. Once agin, Animeigo have done a great job with the material and offer a transfer that delivers for fans of Japanese cinema.