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In this first film of the Lone Wolf and Cub series, adapted from the manga by Kazuo Koike, we are told the story of the Lone Wolf and Cub's origin. Ogami Itto, the official Shogunate executioner, has been framed for disloyalty to the Shogunate by the Yagyu clan, against whom he now is waging a one-man war, along with his infant son, Daigoro. Written by
Like many fans, my first exposure to the world of badass warrior Ogami Itto (and son) was through Shogun Assassin, an infamous 'video nasty' that was compiled from the 'best bits' of the first two movies in the Baby Cart series, 'Sword Of Vengeance' & 'Baby Cart At The River Styx. A stylish blood-drenched epic, Shogun Assassin piqued my interest enough to make me seek out the entire Baby Cart series (comprising of six films, made between 1972 and 1974).
Sword of Vengeance introduces us to protagonist Itto (Tomisaburo Wakayama), whose job, as Second for the Shogunate, is to execute the enemies of the Shogun, should they fail to commit seppuku (ritual suicide). After his wife is murdered, Itto is framed for treason by the nasty Yagyu clan (who wish to take his coveted position as Second). Now a Ronina samurai without a master he takes to the road working as an assassin for hire, accompanied by his young son Daigoro, who rides in a booby-trapped wooden cart. Together, they are known as Lone Wolf and Cub.
With superbly choreographed fight scenes, wonderful cinematography, a terrific soundtrack, and a great central performance from Wakayama, this is an unmissable piece of samurai cinema. Itto is the Japanese equivalent of Clint Eastwood's 'man with no name': a cool-headed, tough-as-nails, and honourable character who is sparing with his words, and who only acts with violence when necessary (but always with devastating results).
A lethal force with his sword (and also with the variety of weapons secreted about Daigoro's cart), Itto cuts a swathe through all who are stupid enough to challenge him. A quick flash of his blade, and his enemies are either minus a limb or two, or spouting a geyser of blood from a fatal wound.
Sword of Vengeance is a prime example of cool, gritty and stylish 70s cult cinema. Watch it, and be cool by association.
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