The Lone Wolf & Cub series has a cult following (including me). All but one of the movies was made in 2 years:
Sword of Vengeance (1972)
Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx (1972)
Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades (1972)
Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril (1972)
Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in the Land of Demons (1973)
Lone Wolf and Cub: White Heaven in Hell (1974)
A total of seven Lone Wolf and Cub films featuring Tomisaburo Wakayama as “Ogami Ittō” have been produced based on the comic. They are also known as the Sword of Vengeance series, based on the English-language title of the first film, and later as the Baby Cart series, because Itto’s young son Daigoro travels in a wooded baby carriage pushed by his father.
The first three films were directed by Kenji Misumi, released in 1972 and produced by Shintaro Katsu, Tomisaburo Wakayama’s brother and the star of the legendary 26 part Zatoichi (the blind swordsman) film series. The next three films were produced by Wakayama and directed by Buichi Saito, Kenji Misumi and Yoshiyuki Kuroda, released in 1972, 1973, and 1974 respectively.
A word or two should be said about Tomisaburo Wakayama. While he is known best for his role as the Lone Wolf, he, like his brother, were prolific actors. Wakayama was also an excellent martial artist obtaining his 4th degree black belt in Judo as well as other martial art disciplines including Kenpo, Iaido, Kendo and Bojutsu, usually learning them when he prepared for filming. He and his brother came from a family of Kabuki actors that toured Asia and the west. After a two year tour in the U.S., Wakayama had enough and left his family’s acting troupe to take up the martial arts. He was subsequently hired by Toei as an actor and the rest is history. He has had roles in over two hundred films, including a famous scene in Ridley Scott’s Black Rain (1989) starring Andy Garcia and Michael Douglas take a look http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jC46eTGpf1M.
Some background & the first movie Sword of Vengeance.
Ogami Ittō, formidable warrior and a master of the suiō-ryū swordsmanship, functions as the Kaishakunin (the Shōgun’s executioner), a position of high power in the Shogunate. Ogami Ittō is the Shogun’s enforcer over the daimyō of Japan (lesser domain lords). When the Shogun ordered samurai and lords to commit seppuku, the Kaishakunin had the “privilege” of assisting in the deaths by decapitating the subject to stop the self-inflicted torture of disembowelment; in this role, Itto is entitled to brandish the crest of the Shogunate, by law acting in the Shogun’s place. So you can’t screw with him. I can only imagine what coming home from work every day was like “hi honey I am home . . . long day at the office decapitated three people” and the like—interesting dinner conversation.
Shortly after Ogami Ittō’s wife Azami gives birth to their son, Daigorō, he returns from work to find everyone viciously murdered except his newborn son. The patsy’s are three samurai from an abolished clan trying to take revenge of their lord against Ittō for his “assistance” with the lords death. Itto’s knows that this is a scam planned by Ura-Yagyū (Shadow Yagyu) Yagyū Retsudō, leader of the Ura-Yagyū clan, to seize Ogami’s powerful position. Somebody planted a funeral tablet with the shogun’s crest on it inside the Ogami family shrine, supposedly signifying a wish for the shogun’s death. When the planted tablet is “discovered” its presence dooms Ittō to traitor status and he relinquishes his post.
The 1-year-old Daigorō is given a choice a ball or the sword (see clip). If the kid chose the ball, his father would kill him and himself, sending him to be with his mother. Luckily the child crawls toward the sword. Itto has now become one of many rōnin wandering the country as the assassin-for-hire team that becomes known as Lone Wolf and Cub, vowing to destroy the Yagyū clan to avenge Azami’s death and Ittō’s disgrace.
While cruising the country Itto does a little advertising by hanging a banner off his back “Ogami: Suiouryo technique” (Child and expertise for rent). His marketing plan works when he lands a job from a Chamberlain to kill a rival and his gang of henchmen who are out to kill chamberlain’s lord. The chamberlain decides to test Ittō, but he makes quick work of the chamberlain’s two best swordsmen. His targets are in a remote mountain village that is host a number of natural hot-spring spa pools.
When Ittō reaches the hot-spring village, he finds that the rival chamberlain and his men have hired a band of ronin that have taken over the town and are doing your usual raping, looting and pillaging.
The ronin discuss killing Ittō, but decide to let him live if he will have sex with the town’s remaining prostitute while they watch. The prostitute refuses to have any part in it, but then she’s threatened by one of the men, a knife expert, and in order to save the woman, Ittō steps forward and disrobes, saying he will oblige them.
The episode takes one more trip back to the past, for the dramatic beheading and blood-spurting scene in which Ittō defeats one of Yagyū Retsudo’s best swordsman, with the aid of a mirror on Daigoro’s forehead to reflect the sun into the swordsman’s eyes. To the disgrace of Retsudo.
Then we have the big showdown. It is revealed that the baby cart has some James Bond type of secrets – several edged weapons, including a spear that Ittō uses to take out the evil chamberlain’s men, chopping one off at his ankles, leaving the bloody stumps of his feet still standing on the ground. (See Clip).
The movie ends. Don’t worry folks this is just part one of the series we are going to look at each of them. Up next, Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx (1972).