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The Lone Wolf and Cub or "Babycart" series of movies are a joy to watch.
There's never a dull moment during Ogami and Diagoro's travels across the
land they call "hell".
White Heaven in Hell is the last installment to a great series. Ogami must face what's left of the Yagyu Clan including Lord Retsudo. Ogami must kill them all to avenge Azami's (Ogami's wife) death.
This movie displays some great choreography (as always) Tomisaburo Wakayama is that good with the sword I sometimes tend to believe the guy is a real "masterless samurai". Although some of the fight scenes are a little confusing (the fight with the girl and the throwing daggers) on a whole this movie displays jaw-dropping sword fights...including an amusing final showdown battle in the snow.
And as usual, the movie displays some weird techniques of eradicating others...including daggers through the head, and even a rocket launcher! This may sound weird, but that's Babycart for you. But it works...in a weird kind of way,
In my opinion, Tomisaburo Wakayama is certainly up there with the likes of Toshiro Mifune...if better.
The end of what's possibly the best samurai saga ever.
The sixth and last of the "Lone Wolf and Cub/Baby Cart" series of films shows how artistically well-done films can make even the most ludicrous ideas work. During Ogami Itto's journey to the final showdown with his arch-enemy Retsudo, leader of the evil Yagyu clan, we witness everything from incest bordering on necrophilia, zombie samurai who can burrow in the ground like worms, the usual assortment of mutilations, a battle on snow skis, and the most elaborate baby cart weaponry yet--including automatic armor plating! As usual, the images are beautifully composed, the action is splendidly choreographed, the plot ideas are wonderfully outrageous, and the funky music score is cool perfection. Any of this out of context would be silly; in context, it's almost sublime.
I was really looking forward to seeing WHITE HEAVEN IN HELL, the
conclusion of the six-part LONE WOLF & CUB series of films charting the
misadventures of Itto Ogami and his son Daigoro as they travel the
violent landscapes of feudal Japan. Earlier films in the series
especially my favourite, the second one have been excellent, so I was
enthused to see how they finished the long-running storyline off. The
bad news is that they don't; this was never intended to be the last
film in the series, so things just close on a cliffhanger that was
never followed up. I won't pretend that I'm not disappointed.
There's both good news and bad news for fans of this series. It's simple: WHITE HEAVEN IN HELL offers more of the same of what's come before. So there's plenty of villainous plotting, scenes of Daigoro being the lad we all know and love, and Ogami taking down numerous opponents without breaking much of a sweat. The villains are hissable, Ogami is effortlessly cool, and by now we all know what's going to happen come the end.
Yet the familiarity of this film's plot is also its downfall. I was starting to feel that things were getting a little stale in the last instalment, and that feeling is now overwhelming. The expert direction and effortless atmosphere of the earlier films is missing, and I couldn't help but feel that things were getting a little run-of-the-mill this time around. Certainly, nothing much happens we haven't seen before.
The writers try to mix things up a bit by introducing more outlandish elements to the script. I like crazy stuff in films, so I was pleased to see the presence of the undead here, and some elements of horror mixed into the narrative, but it's never fully capitalised upon. And the ending is a real let-down, an icy encounter between our feared hero and an army of skiing enemies; it's neither particularly gory nor exciting, instead coming across as rather silly. If you sit back and remember the triumphant, eye-popping ending of BABY CART AT THE RIVER STYX and compare it with what's on offer here, it's a real disappointment. And although they never did close that storyline, I'm kind of glad that things ended with this film. I can only feel they would have otherwise run this series into the ground eventually.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When this film began, it soon became apparent that it had a much
greater cinematic quality than the previous films. The cinematography
is quite artistic and I loved how they framed the shots. It also had a
much grander--more wide-open sort of look to it--with, oddly, a scene
of Itto and his young son skiing!!!! Then, as the film unfolds, the
music is also very nice--again, with a lovely artistic flair. Truly
this is the best looking of the Lone Wolf films.
The scene switches to the head of the evil Yagyu clan (Retsudo) ). Apparently now it is only he and his daughter who are left--Ogami Itto has killed the rest. And so the clan chief is told that this 'problem' is going to be taken out of his hands and handled officially. The Yagyu boss begs to have one final chance and the scene then switches to a very impressive and sick scene--showing this killing machine daughter (Kaori) practicing her knife techniques. The old man coaches her as very methodically she kills three men--burying blades deed into their skulls. This is no ordinary lady!! Sadly, however, her showdown with Itto is over very quickly and it felt very anticlimactic.
Immediately following Kaori's failure, the boss-man himself responds. He goes to visit Hyoei--his previously never mentioned illegitimate son. Now here's where it gets really weird...in the next scene he is officiating some sort of zombie resurrection scene. It seems three warriors were buried alive for 42 days and now they are undead killing machines. Wow...and I thought Itto's anachronistic machine guns in the stroller were weird! Things now really heat up for Itto, as everywhere he goes, anyone who helps him in any way is brutally killed by Hyoei and his Tsuchigumo Tribesmen. They are definitely much more formidable than his half-sister and it sure looks as if Itto will die at Hyoei's hand...and soon. However, Hyoei fails when he he is goaded by Itto to fight him as a samurai...and when Hyoei tries to rape his sister (ewwww--why is there ALWAYS rape in the Lone Wolf films and with his sister yet!) to continue his family line, Retsudo kills him and his sister in the act. He then tries to assume command of the Tsuchigumo--who refuse and wish to destroy Itto on their own--using their magical and mysterious ways.
By now, Itto and his son have high into the snowy mountains--a hint of this was seen at the beginning of the film. Here, the Tsuchigumo are at a disadvantage--they cannot use their bizarre tunneling technique (this is a REALLY weird skill when you see it in action). But they are zombie-like magical beings and so things once again look very bad for Itto the killing machine. Fortunately, Q from the James Bond movies must have invented his baby stroller, as it helps him in this jam---which leads to a snow ski fight somewhat reminiscent of a Bond snow scene. Heck, it even has Bond-like music! However, when Retsudo turns up with his own tricked out Q-inspired baby carriage-like machine, all attempts at realism are out the window...it's truly Bond Time in the 19th century--or should I say "Wild, Wild West" time?!!! I would have to say that this is DEFINITELY the most ridiculous Lone Wolf movie and, at the same time, the most exciting to watch. It's almost non-stop insane action and wild and weird villains. It's something you just have to see.
By the way, this is the last Lone Wolf film--even though "Shogun Assassin" was released in 1980. This 1980 film is actually a film chopped from the earlier films and arranged into a 'new movie'. So, if you've seen the original films there's no reason to see this later film.
These movies were infamous for their incredibly brutal and bloody swordplay
sequences, but equally impressive IMHO was the leading actor- Tomisaburo
Wakayama a.k.a. "Lone Wolf" was surely the greatest martial arts star ever.
The command and authority with which he wielded a sword (and other weapons)
was just phenomenal. The blade truly was an extension of himself, and his
use of it was the definition of lethal, with none of the
unnecessary/show-off flourishes so desperately thrown about by today's
wannabes. He had incredible presence and charisma- easily on a par with the
likes of say Eastwood or Bronson- with eyes that reflected pure death, and
the desolation in his soul. There were moments in the "Babycart" series
where you'd swear he was the personification of his namesake, the Wolf. You
never doubted for one second that he WAS shogun executioner, masterless
samurai, assassin for hire. One look at him in action, and you could readily
understand why his enemies trembled at the mention of his name, and ran from
him in sheer terror. Alas, Lone Wolf is one with void now, but his legend
will live on forever in these films.
Forget Toshiro Mifune. Forget Takakura Ken. Forget Sonny Chiba. Forget Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Donnie Yen, and any of those wire-reliant ballet dancers from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. And CERTAINLY forget any American martial artists that you could care to name. Tomisaburo Wakayama was, is, and forever shall be, THE MAN!
In all honesty and objectivity I need to say that this is probably the
least movie out of the entire series. Having said that, it's still a
great movie, that is highly entertaining. Which should tell you
something about the rest of the series, saying that this one is the
It's the sixth and final movie out of the Kozure Ôkami movie series, that were released between 1972 and 1974. Has much changed within the series over the years? Not really. All of the movies are pretty much the same in terms of its style and approach of the stories and characters. Only "Kozure Ôkami: Oya no kokoro ko no kokoro" is slightly different and more western like because it had a different director at the helm than the other movies. This movie also got director by a different director but yet it pretty much remains in the same style as the Kenji Misumi directed movies.
All you can say that perhaps is different is that this movie tends to be a bit darker in parts than its predecessors. Not necessarily in style in story but purely visually. It's also a bit less smooth and throughout entertaining than the other movies. Luckily the final fight truly compensates a lot.
I can say the end fight in this movie is my favorite one out of the entire series. In that regard this movie really does not disappoint and it's a worthy last outing for Ogami Itto and his infant son Daigoro, that really isn't that much in this movie, probably due to the fact that he was getting a bit too old and big by now for his role.
Ogami Itto shows some new tricks again in this movie and the baby cart is more heavily armed than ever before. I don't think this is the movie out of the series with the highest body counts but it's still really up there though. The action is simply awesome and very creative as well. Of course it's being very over-the-top all and the fountains of blood are all well present again in this movie. You have to like and appreciate this style of Japanese movie-making, that is more manga like than anything else really, in order to fully appreciate this movie series. When you do, this is like one of the most entertaining and also best movie series to watch out there.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Kozure Ôkami: Jigoku e ikuzo! Daigoro" aka. "Lone Wolf And Cub: White
Heaven In Hell" of 1974 is the sixth and (sadly) final installment to
the brilliant Ôkami-cycle starring the great Tomisaburo Wakayama as
Ogami Itto, my personal choice for the greatest (anti-)hero character
in the history of moving images. While the finale is, not my favorite
in the cycle (actually, it is my least favorite of the six), it is
nonetheless a brilliant movie that no fan of Chambara or Japanese film
in general could possibly afford to miss. The entire "Kozure Okami"
cycle ranks high on my personal all-time favorite list and even my
least favorite parts, the third and this one, get the highest possible
rating of 10 out of 10 from me. This last Ôkami film is essential to
Japanese cinema fans for a variety of reasons: First off, the entire
cycle is essential to Chambara fans, and all true cineastes in general.
This last part is also unique in a very particular way: Believe it or
not, "White Heaven In Hell" is THE film with the highest on
screen-body-count caused by a single person in motion picture history.
The Ôkami films are all (very stylishly) ultra-violent and blood-soaked
and from the third Ôkami film onward, the films always had ultra-bloody
battles in the end, in which Ogami Itto single-handedly (or, more
precisely, with help of his son Daigoro) wipes out entire armies of
enemies. This last part is the most extreme in this regard, as Ogami
Itto kills 104 people in the final showdown alone.
The Ôkami films are brilliant in all regards, be it the immensely stylish bloodshed, the brilliant characters, the impressive cinematography or beautiful Japanese settings. My arguably favorite aspect, however, is probably the father-son relationship between Ogami Itto and his son Daigoro (Akihiro Tomikawa). Working as an assassin, Ogami Itto, former Kaishakunin (highest executioner) of the Shogunate, travels through feudal Japan with his infant son Daigoro, in order to clear his name and avenge his wife's death. Throughout the cycle, Daigoro, who is a baby in the first film, grows, and his upbringing and the father-son relationship are unique and strangely heart-warming. Daigoro, who often engages actively in his father's fights, hardly sits in his baby cart any more in the later films, but he still uses the ingeniously modified cart in battle. Shortly spoken: Ogami Itto is the greatest (anti-)hero character ever, and Daigoro is the most brilliant sidekick-character in cinematic history. American Director Robert Houston made an absolutely unnecessary dubbed re-cut of the first two Ôkami films under the title "Shogun Assassin". I didn't see the re-cut, and probably never will as the Japanese language is an essential factor. Also, the re-cut is narrated by Daigoro, which is idiotic, as it is one of Daigoro's most distinguishing character traits that he hardly talks. The original Ôkami-films are entirely brilliant, the entire cycle ranks among my favorite films of all-time, and each part has its particular magic. Even the slightly lesser parts (the third one and this finale) are masterpieces that any lover of Chambara in particular, or Japanese cinema, Exploitation, Martial-Arts, or just movies in general should love. My only regret with the "Ôkami" cycle is that they didn't make more sequels. My advice: If you don't know them yet, get all six "Lone Wolf And Cub" films, and watch them NOW!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The last of the Lone Wolf films, it tries to tie up some loose ends by killing more of the Yagyu family, but Ogami's adventures could continue after this movie: Retsudo, his arch-enemy, still lives and I wish they made at least a seventh film to finish him off. Even after all this killing, men are still willing to attack Ogami, even though he must have killed hundreds, if not thousands of Samurai by now. One clan even sends a sort of zombies after him, and it takes some wit to finally destroy them. In the end there comes another great standoff between him and the remaining forces of the Yagyu-clan, a visual feast of sword-fighting on a snow-covered mountain. Great action all in all, even if the story isn't as elaborate as in some other Lone Wolf films.
Honestly, I think that the Lone Wolf and Cub series is the greatest samurai series ever. EVER. Although some of the events are, ahem, not the most plausible things in the world, the journeys of Ogami Itto and Daigoro are fascinating to watch. Actually, the perfection of the direction and cinematography makes even a machine gunning baby cart seem perfectly normal. A great movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is the last episode of the BABY CART series, which centers around
a father-and-son assassin duo who are out to destroy the Yagyu clan who
betrayed them in the first installment of the series.
This one has more of the usual inventive battles, including a fight with zombie-type ninjas, and a great end battle on skis through snow-covered mountains.
This one didn't quite end the way I thought, and left itself open for another installment that never came. Regardless, this is yet another solid entry in this excellent series, and a fitting end to a legendary set of films. The cinematography, acting, sets and settings, and swordplay choreography are all up to par with the other films - which means even compared to contemporary films - these were lightyears ahead of their time. I highly recommend the whole series for anyone who's into martial arts or pinky-violence films. 8.5/10
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