2.15.2008

Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance




Tomisaburo Wakayama in Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance (dir. Kenji Misumi, 1972).

I like the literal English title better: Wolf with Child in Tow: Child and Expertise for Rent.

This is the first of six films in the Kozure Ôkami series, adapted by screenwriter Kazuo Koike from his immensely popular manga series. I'm not a samurai film aficionado (yet), so I'll leave it to someone else to chart the influence of these films and ones like them on Tarantino's Kill Bill, which features similar balletic dismemberments and squirting firehose-streams of blood. That is, I don't know if these were the first films in this genre with this particular garish visual style and spaghetti-western-tinged music, but they certainly are impressive. Tomisaburo Wakayama is Ogami Itto, a Ronin or renegade samurai, whose wife is murdered by some Shogun faction or other (I don't even know if I'm using any of these words right), whereupon he hits the road as an assassin for hire, pushing his son Daigoro along with him in a wooden baby cart. His face is stolidly inexpressive at all times, which makes him seem very expressive. And little Daigoro is pretty much the same way, in addition to being so darned cute. When we first meet him, he is being snatched up by an insane woman who force-breastfeeds him while his father stands by patiently. Starting to get an idea of the weirdness here? But, while it is weird, it would be misleading to suggest that the entire thing is a big long kinkfest. For the most part, it's classical narrative film in the adventure tradition, with all the familiar attending humanist themes of nobility and fatalistic grace, tweaked toward a bizarre sado-eroticism ever so slightly.

In this first installment, the events described above occur, and then Ogami Itto takes an assignment that places him in a small village held hostage by a bunch of pirate-like guys who are in some way relevant to the assignment in question, but I'm not sure exactly how. While there, Ogami Itto obeys these guys' orders to have sex with an attractive prostitute, an act she perceives as extremely chivalrous and selfless, which, in context, it is. Why? Doesn't matter. There ensues lots of swordplay and leaping and geysers of blood. Fwwooooooshhhhhh.

3 comments:

François said...

Oh, yeah, it's a fun series. But the influence goes like this, since you were asking:

Kurosawa->Sergio Leone->Kozure Ogami

K. Silem Mohammad said...

I could tell that both Kurosawa and Leone were big influences on Misumi, but I was uncertain whether there were earlier (or for that matter, later) syntheses of K. and L. that might have inspired Tarantino more directly. Does that make sense? In other words, were there directors before Misumi who were combining elements of K. & L. in such a vivid way?

François said...

Well, there was the Samurai Trilogy, starring Toshiro Mifune, but that was mostly K.-lite and no L. Kozure Ogami the movie series is pretty unique because of it. The following TV series took a more reheated K-lite route (due, probably, to budget constraints). On the other hand, the Zatoichi series might somewhat fit, but my memory of it is a bit blurry.

Similarly, subsequent samurai movies took a cleaner route, especially in the 80s (where they looked cheap, with the exception of Ran and Kagemusha). I am thinking about, for example, about Nagisa Oshima's Gohatto (known here as Taboo) and Takeshi Kitano's Zatoichi, which was a bit strange.