Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in the Land of Demons [IMDB]
Directed by Kenji Misumi
Starring Tomisaburo Wakayama
In the fifth instalment of the Lone Wolf and Cub series, Ogami Itto and his son Daigoro are attacked by a series of representatives of the Kuroda clan, each carrying a part of a new mission. Ogami's task involves confronting his nemesis Retsudo Yagyu once again, defeating an apparently invulnerable priest, and exposing the secrets at the heart of the Kuroda clan.
It had to happen somewhere along the line: five films in, the Lone Wolf and Cub series finally shows a significant dip in quality. To be clear, Baby Cart in the Land of Demons is still an interesting film which has a lot of the series' integral features intact – but it lacks a certain spark which make the previous four entries so consistently enthralling. The cast are still excellent and Misumi's direction is again top-notch, but something is definitely awry when it comes to the film's story.
Previous Lone Wolf and Cub entries had their own narrative complexities. The third film in particular demands quite close attention in order to keep up with its labyrinthine inter-clan scheming. Number five takes things to a whole new level, however, and it is definitely to the film's detriment. The motivations of a number of characters – including Ogami himself - never quite seem clear, and even knowing that Ogami will not achieve his vengeance within the film series, it's frustrating that the Yagyu clan are covered so haphazardly this time around.
Alongside these problems is the film's relative lack of action. The number of action scenes is as low as in the first film or lower, and one or two of them feel quite perfunctory for series known for its innovative and varied set pieces. The result of this confusing narrative and comparatively small amount of excitement means that Baby Cart in the Land of Demons feels somewhat slow and leaden compared with its predecessors. It reaches its nadir with a largely irrelevant subplot in which Daigoro becomes entwined with a notorious pickpocket named Quick-Change Oyo.
When Misumi's fourth and final directorial effort in the series focuses on its strengths, it still provides a lot of thrills. What the film's climactic battle lacks in scale it makes up for in sheer brutality, and is shot with Misumi's usual panache – at one point the camera remains completely static while Ogami cuts down each of a series of swordsmen who confront him within a gloomy indoor setting. It takes a director of Misumi's skill to know that when there is so much excitement within the scene, the camera should know its place and remain still.
While it's arguably the weakest entry in the series so far, Baby Cart in the Land of Demons is still an accomplished effort and well worth seeing. My overriding concern is with those story issues – in the liner notes, Tom Mes argues that there is a “method to the madness” of the film, and that it is deliberately confusing in a way which serves the film's themes. The trouble is, I just can't quite see it.
Body Count 90, of which Ogami takes care of 74.
Best Moment Daigoro briefly befriends a young princess... just before she coldly orders his death.
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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