For my money, this is the best of the Lone Wolf and Cub series. Or maybe it’s just that I get more enthusiastic with each new film I see. Whatever the case, I’m very enthusiastic about this one.
It’s impossible to talk about the Lone Wolf and Cub series without talking lot about swordplay. After all, that’s what the series is all about: indeed, it’s reputed to be the best swordplay series ever made. Having not seen the entire roster of swordplay films, I can’t comment on that. But I can say that the swordplay in this film is damn fine.
Lead actor Wakayama Tomisaburo shows that the years spent in martial arts training were not wasted. He handles his sword like professional, with a maximum of style and a minimum of unnecessary flourishes, and is a joy to watch. I was also delighted to see that, in this film, he cleans his sword. It always bothered me when actors would immediately sheathe their swords because, being the pedant that I am, I imagined those lovely katana, made by highly skilled swordsmiths, rapidly rusting into uselessness.
Wakayama also shows that, although he rejected life in the kabuki world, he still carries the legacy of those early years: his voice and demeanour show unmistakable evidence of kabuki training. In one way, it’s a pity he turned his back on it, because that face was just made for kabuki. In another way, it’s good that he did, because otherwise the world would have been deprived of this truly exceptional series.
Wakayama, being the multi-talented hero that he is (or was), displays some other skills. Namely, he strips down to his fetching samurai wrap-around undergarments and goes swimming. You’ll love the scene in which he dispatches 5 assassins underwater: he dives, there’s five simultaneous flurries, then Ogami surfaces, accompanied by five spiralling bloody trails and five bobbing corpses. Not content with that, he wades to shore and continues the fight there, wielding his various weapons against about two dozen opponents, all the while dressed in his scanties. Magic stuff.
Unlike the previous films, or at least unlike my memory of the previous films, the cinematography in this one is really lush. There are some beautiful scenic shots, displaying various delights of the real or imagined Japanese countryside: I’ve never seen so many leafy glades and tinkling waterfalls. Many scenes of Ogami Itto and his son Daigoro put the viewer in the position of a spy, heightening the tension.
Overall, this film is even more fun than previous films in the series. And if you want swordplay, there’s no better place to look.