This is the fourth in a series of BLIND SPOT essays on the Lone Wolf and Cub series. The master list, with links to the other films, is here.
Well, I jinxed it. Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril breaks the trend of each film getting progressively better. I knew I should have kept my big mouth shut! Oh, well. This isn’t to say that this fourth instalment in the series is bad in any way, though it contains many stylistic flourishes that perplex more than excite.
Let’s start with some good stuff, though. Baby Cart in Peril has undoubtedly the most arresting opening scene of the series so far. A expressionless woman slaughters a gaggle of men surrounding her. This is O-Yuki, and with each kill, she slices off the topknots of her victims. We later learn the action brings much disgrace to the men’s houses. Though she fights bare-chested, this is not for titillation. We notice her back covered with a tattoo of some kind of mountain witch, while some supernatural infant surrounds her left breast. Tattoos feature prominently in this episode, alongside the idea of felling an enemy by dazzling them with distraction.
After this scene and the opening credits, it’s quickly apparent that this is the first entry without Kenji Misumi as a director. Little Daigoro, the three-year-oldish son of our hero Ogami Itto, watches a group of street performers. After their show, he follows them, quickly separating from his father and becoming lost. Suddenly, on the soundtrack, we hear a song directly commenting upon the action. The lyrics are about Daigoro, how he’s the son of an assassin, etc. In no other entry have we heard such a thing. There was a song about ‘Lone Wolf and Cub’ at the end of the previous entry, before the ‘The End’ title card. But this song swells right smack dab in the middle of the action, like one of those narrative, non-diegetic songs from Tarzan.
Okay, one new thing like this I can accept. However, as soon as the song is over, we hear an unnamed, omniscient narrator in voice-over, explaining Daigoro’s inner state and thought process. I think I would have been satisfied just seeing the boy take refuge in a Buddhist temple, but Narrator Man gives us all the reasons he might do such a thing. It’s not even like Samuel L Jackson suddenly appearing in Inglourious Basterds to spoon-feed the audience necessary exposition; here it’s decidedly brief, then Narrator Man disappears forever.
Overall, Baby Cart in Peril is less action-oriented than the other entries in the series, and I wonder if new director Buichi Saitô thought this was a problem in need of correction. That or he just tried to leave a personal stamp: the film is awash with choppy cuts, sudden zooms, jarring music. It’s also quite clearly the entry Quentin Tarantino borrowed the most from. Funny, that.
It’s not just the overbaked style that gave me pause—there was one scene that I flat-out hated. I’ll avoid spoilers here, but it involves a kind of Mission: Impossible II-style face mask that seemed very out of place. I mean, of course I know that I’m watching a series about fictional samurai, replete with phoney violence and questionable physics. But this little plot point felt incongruous given the reality of the world Misumi created over three previous films. Mercifully, it’s brief.
Don’t get the wrong idea. There is much to commend in Baby Cart in Peril, not least of all the story. We finally learn why the Yagyu clan hates Ogami Itto so very much, and see a brutal confrontation between him and the Yagyu leader. O-Yuki turns out to be Ogami’s mark, and their final battle may be the series’ most thematically satisfying. Apart from these tussles, the true climax of the film is a jaw-dropper, as the ronin and his son yet again clash with an army of hundreds of men. This time, though, the enemies’ skill is greater. And Ogami finally begins his ‘demon road to hell’—though exactly what that means is not yet clear.
Whatever else he accomplishes here, Buichi Saitô sure keeps the blood factor high. The original English-language title of Baby Cart in Peril was Slashing Blades of Carnage, and boy does that fit. We see further decapitations, severed limbs, gorings. But it’s all in good-natured, manga-flavoured fun!