The third Lone Wolf And Cub film, Baby Cart To Hades, was released theatrically in North America by Columbia Pictures in 1973. as Lightning Swords Of Death and on video as Lupine Wolf. The main difference between the Columbia Pictures version and the original Toho version is the dubbed track, which Animeigo has supplied for this DVD release. Fans now have the choice of watching the film in its original Japanese version or in this dubbed version. Unlike Shogun Assassin (which was basically the first two films edited down into one ninety-minute movie with English dubbing over the top) there don't appear to be any differences in the running time between the Japanese version and this version.
Arguably the strongest of the six films in the series, the movie begins with our two protagonists, an assassin named Ogami Itto (Tomisaburo Wakayama, brother of Shintaro Katsu who is best known as Zatoichi and who produced the first three films in the series) and his young son Daigoro (Akihiro Tomikawa), journeying by boat to another part of the region. One the way, they meet a young woman named Omatsu who has been purchased to work as a prostitute. When, by chance, Itto and son hole up in the same inn as she and her pimp, they end up defending her when she kills him after he attempts to rape her.
The clan that purchased her wants her to pay for the death of her captor because he was one of their own, but Ogami refuses to hand her over and instead allows them to torture him in her place (in a particularly harrowing scene). Once that's over with, they ask him to take on a job for them and in return, they promise to leave the girl alone for good. A local deputy named Endo Genba (Isao Yamagata) is his target, but his assassination is not going to be an easy task as he has an army of samurai at his disposal as well as a master swordsman named Magomura Kanbei (Go Kato) on his side.
With a renewed focus on Ogami's warrior code and his strong sense of honor, Baby Cart To Hades, or as the title screen of this English language dubbed version calls it Lone Wolf With A Child... Baby Cart On To The Hades, is a powerful film about a man's sacrifice. He literally puts his life on the line for Omatsu, a girl he hardly knows and who he has no intention of collecting anything from in return, and he almost dies in the process a couple of times. It's this strict adherence to the code that makes Ogami Itto such an interesting character and it's perfectly demonstrated in this movie from the opening scene to the final showdown with Kanbei.
The highlight of the film, at least in terms of action and fight choreography, is the scene in which Ogami and Daigoro square off against an army of samurai brandishing bows and arrows, guns, and swords and many of whom are on horseback. The way in which this problem is resolved might owe a little bit to Sergio Corbucci's Django as it's a little similar in the way it's handled Either way, Lightning Swords Of Death is a great blend of period sets and costumes, tragic drama, and exploitative action.
Animeigo went all out and completely restored the six Lone Wolf And Cub films from brand new prints. It's from this restoration project that Animeigo took the transfer for this film which is presented here in it's original aspect ration of 2.35:1, enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs (they've basically just put the English language dubbed track over the restored Japanese version of the movie – this version runs 1:28:43 versus the Baby Cart To Hades version which runs 1:28:53 – the difference in running time seemingly coming from the credits as there are no obvious trims to the movie). The transfer the film sports rich, robust color with a pretty decent level of both foreground and background detail. There is some very minor print damage here and there and some line shimmering in a few scenes but neither of these faults prove to be over powering at all. The picture could have been a little bit sharper but overall things do look very nice all the way across the board here.
The English language Dolby Digital mono soundtrack on this disc has a few spots where some background hiss is slightly evident but is otherwise nice and clean. Seeing as the audio is the main reason people are going to want to pick this disc up, it's nice to see that Animeigo has at least ensured that the disc sounds good. The score is properly balanced against the sound effects and the dialogue and it's never difficult to understand what is being said. Optional English subtitles are provided only to translate the Japanese text pieces that appear in the movie.
Extra features are slim on this release, consisting of trailers for Shogun Assassin and a couple of other Animeigo samurai titles, a still gallery of both color and black and white promotional photos (sadly the fantastic U.S. one sheet for Lightning Swords Of Death doesn't appear here) and some fairly in-depth program notes which explain the history of the era in which the film takes place. Some static menus are provided and there are chapter stops available for the feature.
Purists have probably already plunked down some hard earned coin for the original version of the film but those who get nostalgic for seventies dubbing or who want as complete a collection as possible will be pleased to get Lightning Swords Of Death on DVD with the dubbed track in its original theatrical aspect ratio. Animeigo's disc is light on extras but it looks good and it sounds good and this disc comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.