Following on from the first film in the series, Sword of Vengeance, Baby Cart at the River Styx continues the story of Ogami Itto and his baby son Daigoro as they wander the Japanese landscape as assassins-for-hire. Dour and quiet, Ogami is still haunted by the death of his wife, and early in the story we hear the chimes that were ringing as she was murdered in the first film.
After the events of the first film, the Yagyu clan are bound to leave Ogami Itto and his son alone in their territory. Naturally, being an evil clan of power-hungry samurai, they’re not all that happy with that; accordingly, they dispatch a group of Kurokuwa ninja to Akashi, where they meet the local Yagyu clan. The local clan are female ninja led by Yagyu Sayaka (Matsuo Kayo) who agrees to take care of Ogami while he’s in the area (after all, he’s not in Yagyu territory here!), after demonstrating rather violently that her female ninja are very much a match for the strongest of the Kurokuwa ninja.
Meanwhile, Ogami Itto is in the area to do a job: he must find and kill the overseer of a local dye-making operation that has fled and been taken away by the shogunate, thereby threatening the local clan’s monopoly on the particular type of dye that they produce. This is intellectual property protection the old-fashioned way! Unfortunately, the man in question is being shepherded by the the Hidari Brothers, the “Gods of Death”, who frighten even the Yagyu clan and are equipped with some painful-looking weaponry.
What follows is a series of bloody confrontations as Ogami Itto tries to do the job that he’s been paid for, and simultaneously avoid being killed by the Yagyu clan and their associates. There’s a great deal of blood and violence, but it’s exceptionally well-shot and directed. In particular there’s a great deal of quite stylistic use of the camera in some scenes, emphasising the grace of some of the fighters’ movements. Daigoro also becomes more prominent in this film, having some involvement in the battles himself (there are so many hidden weapons on his cart!) and trying to nurse his father back to health after he’s wounded at one point.
This feels like a much more polished film than the first instalment, with some excellent direction and a more complex plot (though perhaps this is because now we don’t have to deal with introducing the characters). It’s not for those who can’t stand a lot of violence in a film — Ogami Itto is an assassin, after all — but it’s great fun for those who can.