Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril [IMDB]
Directed by Buichi Saito
Starring Tomisaburo Wakayama
The Lone Wolf, Ogami Itto, accepts a mission to track down and kill a young woman who has recently defeated and killed a group of samurai belonging to the Owari clan. As Ogami stalks his target, he begins to sympathise with her upon learning of her troubled past. All the while, Ogami and his son Daigoro are pursued relentlessly by their enemies in the Yagyu clan and Ogami meets the only man ever to defeat him in a sword fight – Gunbei, an exiled son of his arch-nemesis, Retsudo.
Kenji Misumi took a break from the Lone Wolf and Cub series with this fourth entry, the last to be released in 1972. The fact that Buichi Saito took over the results in no drop of quality, however – Baby Cart in Peril is another terrific slice of samurai action which is as rich with artful blood-letting and heady themes as any of its predecessors. It should almost go without saying at this point that the cinematography is superb and Tomisaburo Wakayama is better still in his iconic role as Ogami Itto.
I said in my review of the previous film that I see intelligent iterations as one of the keys to creating a satisfying film series. Baby Cart in Peril continues in this vein with another excellent spin on the series' formula. Women are important in all of the films, but it is in this fourth instalment in which Ogami has a woman as his principal opponent. The tattooed, vengeful swords-woman Oyuki (played by Michi Azuka, who I believe played an Akashi clanswoman in the second film) is a formidable and sympathetic character who presents an ideal foil to Ogami. The film's plot, which sees Ogami trying to track Oyuki down and gradually learning of her quest for vengeance, is very much like that of Sudden Impact, the fourth Dirty Harry film released in 1983. In another interesting example of the influence this film had on subsequent films, a memorable scene in which Daigoro escapes a fire was lifted almost wholesale for John Woo's 1986 film Heroes Shed No Tears.
Once again, Ogami's mission causes him to show a compassionate side which he purports to have abandoned forever. The former executioner not only begins to see Oyuki's point of view, but also builds a rapport with her father and the community of actors, comedians and street performers of which he is a kind of benevolent patriarch. Like Ogami and Daigoro, they are outcasts who suffer repression and persecution from the powerful clans and lords – their plight causes Ogami to act far outside the boundaries of his original mission.
The series is known for its seemingly inexhaustible supply of innovative and bloody setpieces are there are some particularly spectacular examples in this film. One scene set in a temple reminds us that the threat of the Yagyu clan is still very real – it is also a masterful exercise in tension because while we know an attack is coming, it's impossible to guess how or when it will come.
One of the most distinctive aspects of Baby Cart in Peril is its heavy emphasis on flashbacks. At around four points in the film, the colour bleaches out of the image as a character relates to Ogami some events which took place in the past. Misumi's previous films had also uses flashbacks and other scenes out of order, but Buichi Saito really makes a feature of them here. It not only makes a comparatively simple story more engaging, but also reflects Saito's willingness to experiment in what would be his only Lone Wolf and Cub film (although he would work on the 1973-1976 TV series).
With rich themes of parenthood, vengeance, and exile Baby Cart in Peril is another immensely entertaining in the almost disturbingly consistent Lone Wolf and Cub series.
Body Count Ogami takes 84 lives this time around.
Best Moment Oyuki destroys a group of samurai and one scene later, Ogami agrees to kill her.
Sometime film reviewer, Letterboxd user, novice Blu-Ray collector. Top 3 directors: Woo, Hill, Leone.
Henry V (UK, 1989) ★★★★½
The Fast and the Furious (USA, 2001) ★★★★
Goodfellas (USA, 1990) ★★★★★
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