Lone Wolf And Cub: Baby Cart At The River Styx

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Lone Wolf And Cub: Baby Cart At The River Styx
"Baby Cart At The River Styx mixes cheesy plot elements with a detailed recreation of historical and political elements, and silly special effects with gorgeous cinematography."

The second entry in the Lone Wolf And Cub/Baby Cart/Sword Of Vengeance series is likely to be the most familiar to Western viewers because scenes cut from it form the bulk of English-dubbed composite film Shogun Assassin. It follow disgraced ronin Ogami Itto (TomisaburĂ´ Wakayama) and his infant son Daigoro (Akihiro Tomikawa), who have fled for safety after the slaughter of their family and now walk what Itto refers to as the demon road, making a living as assassins for hire. Here they are drawn into a complicated struggle over trade and workers' rights (in which, essentially, the workers lose whoever wins) and asked to assassinate a clan trader with three dangerous allies known as the Monks of Death. One of these three ha iron claws, one uses flying maces, and the other has iron fists. One doesn't need to have seen many films in the genre to anticipate where this is going.

Although this was shot only a few months after the first film, Sword Of Vengeance, little Tomokawa has grown significantly and is able to take a much more active role in the film. His trademark cynical stare provides a lot of the film's humour. His character also gets his first kill, at least onscreen, as he learns his first few words and demonstrates samurai-quality toughness when plunged into peril. If it seems unwise to take a child this age into fights, it's worth noting that Itto can't really leave Daigoro behind because they're both being hunted by members of the clan that originally turned on them. In this case, a group of onna-bugeisha, or sword mistresses, is on their tail, having bloodily dismembered a male ninja to demonstrate their skill. Bushido culture does not entertain any ideas about it being unchivalrous for a man to take out a woman who's trying to kill him, so Itto takes on these would-be assassins as fiercely as he has dealt with others. Honour come into the story in other ways, however, and when she is caught between her obligation to respect her lord's orders and the shame inherent in a planned kidnap of Diagoro, the onna-bugeisha leader, Yagyu Sayaka (Kayo Matsuo), begins to doubt herself.

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Like its predecessor, Baby Cart At The River Styx mixes cheesy plot elements with a detailed recreation of historical and political elements, and silly special effects with gorgeous cinematography. There's a bit more borrowing going on, and sharp-eyed viewers will spot references to westerns like A Fistful Of Dollars, but director Kenji Misumi continues to be inventive and to reinvent classic screen imagery in ways that will prove hugely influential. The final showdown on the dunes is a classic and more than makes up for the predictable nature of the fight itself.

Misumi is once again limited by available technology so there's a lot of cutting away from the action, but we still get to see some nicely choreographed swordplay and he pushes boundaries where he can, this time delivering one of cinema's earliest underwater sword fights. Here the lush greenery of the first film is replaced by rocky slopes and tall dry grass buffeted by the wind, but the effect is every bit as impressive.

One of those rare sequels that really lives up to its predecessor, this is one of the highlights of the series and, though lacking somewhat in narrative sophistication, is well worth checking out.

Reviewed on: 10 Mar 2017
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