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Lone Wolf and Cub

6 Movies

Japan (1972-1974), each approx. 85 minutes
Starring: Tomisaburō Wakayama
Reviewer: Jeremy Silman
Genre: Martial Arts
Rating: 5

This six-movie set (also known as Baby Cart, Shogun Assassin, and Sword of Vengeance) originally appeared in a 110 volume adult comic book series, and was adapted for live action by Shintaro Katsu (the actor that played Zatoichi and later Hanzo the Razor) as a staring vehicle for his brother, Tomisaburo Wakayama.

All six movies were filmed in just two years, but flopped with the Japanese audiences. Strangely, they were far better received by international viewers and are now considered to be classics. Though other films and other actors later depicted the tales of the Lone Wolf and Cub (the best of which is the 1992 Lone Wolf and Child), I’ll only address Wakayama’s magnificent portrayal here.

The story revolves around Itto Ogami, the Shogun’s official executioner, and the Yagyu clan, a proud, elitist family that yearns for Ogami’s position. By planting false evidence of treason and murdering his wife and retainers, the Yagyu family force Itto Ogami to flee with his newborn baby. Soon the supremely skilled Ogami makes a name as the ultimate assassin, a man who is willing to kill anyone for 500 pieces of gold – a man who, with his child, walks the “road to hell” while waiting for a chance to avenge himself against the villains who destroyed his family’s honor.

These wonderful movies offer psychological and cultural subtleties along with amazing swordplay. They gripped me when I first watched them decades ago, and they continue to mesmerize me when I watch them today (I’ve seen all six many, many times, and can’t wait to watch them again!).

If you want to play it safe and buy just one, allow me to strongly recommend Baby Cart At The River Styx, a movie that, in my opinion, might well be the single greatest Samurai film of all time.

Sword Of Vengeance (1972, 83 minutes)
Baby Cart To Hades (1972, 89 minutes)
Baby Cart In Peril (1972, 81 minutes)
Baby Cart At The River Styx (1972, 81 minutes)
Baby Cart In The Land Of Demons (1973, 89 minutes)
White Heaven In Hell (1974, 83 minutes)