Review: Lone Wolf and Cub Vol 6: White Heaven in Hell (1974)

Directed by:
Cast: ,

Distributed in Australia by:

This film is billed as “the biggest snow massacre ever filmed!” So for those of you looking for a big snow massacre, look no further. For those of you who aren’t looking for a big snow massacre, there’s still plenty to look at.

When I reviewed the fifth film in the Lone Wolf And Cub series, I said that it was my favourite so far. Now I think I’ll have to override that, because this one’s even better. It’s a little unusual for a series to continue to improve: most series, like the Zatoichi series, run out of ideas, inspiration, and just plain interest. Not so this one: the film-makers manage to develop the characters and plot, while maintaining and even improving the central focus of the series, which is the swordplay.

In this final, definitely climactic, film in the series, our heroes’ plight becomes much more serious. In addition to being pursued by members of the evil Yagyu clan, the Lone Wolf and Cub find themselves being hounded by a shadowy mountains clan, whose aim is to deny them all human contact. So anyone who so much as offers them shelter or food is marked for death. Even just having their vegetables nicked by Ogami is enough to doom them, which makes life just that bit more fraught for man, boy, and cart.

So the only option is to head north, and head north they do, into what is either a frozen wasteland or a scenic snowscape, depending on whether or not you’ve been living on dirt for the last few days. And this, of course, brings us to the climactic conclusion, the afore-mentioned snow massacre.

Said snow massacre is indeed pretty damn impressive. The sight of Tomisaburo (as Ogami Itto) hurtling down a snow slope perched precariously atop the baby cart, fending off hordes of ski-borne ninja, would be impressive enough, but of course there’s more to it than that. It’s one man against the elements and about 50 enemies, fighting with sticks, swords, spears, and just about everything else, including trees. There’s red blood and black bodies against stark white snow, although most of them get left behind fairly quickly, given that a lot of the fighting takes place while whizzing downslope at speed.

If you only ever see one samurai film, you might want to make it this one, because it’s authentic (Tomisaburo studied the various fighting arts after leaving the world of kabuki and before becoming an actor), it’s exciting, and it looks gorgeous. But then, why on earth would you only want to see one?

9.5 extremely discomfited ninja out of 10.
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