Friday, July 29, 2022

#2,791. Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance (1972) - Lone Wolf and Cub Series


Based on a manga series initially published in 1970, the Lone Wolf and Cub films (six in all) center on the exploits of Ogami Itto (Tomisaburo Wakayama), a former Samurai from Japan’s Tokugawa period (which spanned the 17th to 19th centuries). Once the respected executioner of a powerful Shogun, Itto falls out of favor when the Yagyu clan, led by Retsudo (Yunesuke Ito), frames him for treason.

Itto’s already-crumbling world is further turned upside-down when Yagyu assassins, intent on killing the disgraced Samurai, break into his home and murder his wife Asami (Keiko Fujita), leaving Itto as the sole caretaker for his infant son Daigoro (Akihiro Tomikawa).

Vowing revenge against those who destroyed his family and his reputation, Itto travels the land as a Ronin (a masterless Samurai), pushing a wooden baby cart and offering his unique “services” to the highest bidders, all the while fending off a steady stream of killers sent by the Yagyu clan to destroy him.

As played by Wakayama, Ogami Itto is a total badass, a deadly swordsman who never smiles and rarely speaks. He has the bearing and the skills of a superhero, and 1972’s Swords of Vengeance serves as his origin story. Combining flashbacks with the first leg of his journey through Feudal Japan, Swords of Vengeance brings us up to speed, showing Itto’s initial role as the Shogun’s executioner (in the very first scene, he must behead a child whose family offended his master); his eventual downfall and the murder of his wife; and his showdown with the Yagyu family (in one of the film’s coolest scenes, he agrees to face off against the Yagyu’s best swordsman, rushing into battle with Daigoro strapped to his back).

Topping all, however, is the extended sequence in which Itto and Daigoro visit a Hot Spring, situated in a village that has been taken over by a band of escaped criminals. Itto was hired by a Chamberlain to foil an assassination plot (the conspirators have enlisted the escapees to assassinate the Chamberlain), and with no knowledge of Itto’s background or his true identity, the criminals confiscate his Dotanuki sword the moment he arrives and lock he and Daigoro in a room with other travelers, one of whom is a prostitute (Tomoko Mayama). Throughout this entire ordeal, we the audience know it’s only a matter of time before Itto makes his move. We actually laugh as the criminals insult him, and cannot wait for the moment Itto finally strikes back.

Despite its copious amount of blood - which gushes from open wounds like a geyser - Swords of Vengeance is also a beautifully shot film (especially striking is a scene involving a suspended bridge, which Itto and son must cross to get to the Hot Spring), with each and every battle staged as if it were a ballet (the showdown with the Yagyu swordsman is especially breathtaking).

All this, plus the introduction of one of the most intriguing, most hardened anti-heroes ever to grace the big screen (Itto’s code of honor has led him to believe that, by breaking his oath to his Shogun, he will spend eternity in hell, making him doubly dangerous: a skilled swordsman who feels he has absolutely nothing more to lose!) make Swords of Vengeance a must-see motion picture.

Watch Ogami Itto’s exploits in Swords of Vengeance and I guarantee you’ll be chomping at the bit to check out the rest of the series!
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

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