Blood and Baby Carts
AFS presents samurai series Lone Wolf and Cub
It can be tough as a single parent. Navigating life's journey, providing for your offspring, trying to teach your child the lessons that will serve them well in life, while also trying to adhere to those tenets yourself. And ninjas, those pesky, black-clad idiots just keep showing up everywhere. If you are Ogami Itto (Tomisaburo Wakayama), disgraced master executioner for the shogunate in 16th century Japan, whose wife was killed but son Daigoro (Akihiro Tomikawa) was spared, you know what you do? You hit the road to become a rogue assassin, dispatching justice on a trail of righteous revenge, toddler in tow.
Scientists have yet to determine the length and breadth of the influence the beloved Lone Wolf and Cub series has had, but starting next week, the Austin Film Society is screening all six films, so you can posit your own theories. Suffice to say, without these cinematic marvels (based on the massively successful manga by writer Kazuo Koike and artist Goseki Kojima), Quentin Tarantino would still be some out-of-luck schmuck at a soon-to-close L.A. video store, comics writer Frank Miller (Sin City) would not exist, and the universe would be denied the amazingly complex furrowed brow of Wakayama in the iconic role of Ogami, wielding his preternaturally sharp sword with blood-spewing precision. If you're familiar with the films, well, you've already bought your tickets, but if you are new to the Lone Wolf universe, I will try to paint a picture of just how much your life is lacking without these movies in it.
"I must know all the details of the circumstances," is the repeated refrain as Ogami and son go from village to village picking up odd jobs as arbiters of death (for the price of 500 pieces of gold). In the first film, 1972's Sword of Vengeance, the duo's origin story is mapped, and hot springs provide a steamy locale for death. The subsequent entries of the series offer up a cavalcade of blood and honor, as those pesky clans (and the really pesky shadow clans) provide grief for the father, his son, and the aforementioned ninjas.
Through all their adventures, the iconic image of Ogami pushing the cart holding 3-year-old Daigoro is a constant. I'm not going to go into the toddler's hairstyle except to say it is the coolest thing you have ever seen. I won't go into the fact that the father uses his son as a decoy in fights, often literally throwing him in harm's way, except to say that little guy knows the score. I do want to talk about that baby cart. It is a force to be reckoned with: pram, boat, weapons stash, and mutilating harbinger of death. I haven't run the numbers, but I think that thing kills more people than the assassin himself. The whole series is lovingly shot with flat-out gorgeous, wide, expansive shots juxtaposed with close-up handheld camerawork, accompanied by a supremely cool soundtrack. Oh, I haven't mentioned the fight choreography? Well, it is amazing, as Ogami slashes his way through feudal Japan in a blood-soaked path of, as he puts it, "living the life of demons." It's heady, nihilistic stuff, and no genre cinephile worth their salt has any reason not to know these films. This is a gift that AFS has given Austin, so you better not waste it, or there may be a coolly coiffed kid careening toward you in a blade-wielding cart of death, followed by the precise cut of a samurai's sword. Come and live at the crossroads to hell.