Saturday, 19 November 2016
Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx
Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx is not in the least bit interested in providing a conclusion, or really even any continuation, to the threats proposed by Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance. Archenemy Retsudo is nowhere to be seen, although his hand is felt in the endless waves of suicidal ninja pursuing the titular pair. Instead, the film is content to iterate on its predecessor, exploring emotional notes the previous entry ignored whilst also accentuating the bloodletting with fantastical characters who possess surreal skills.
This time Kenji Misumi begins by giving us a sense of what it's like to actually be Ogami Itto. We see that the immunity he projects masks a mind constantly scanning and analysing situations, searching for even a hint of danger. He has to. The father and son are constantly assailed and attacked, their endless, expert enemies bringing death by a thousand cuts rather than one, decisive blow. Misumi has fun with this idea of psychological siege, layering in creeping noise and foreboding music to make even mundane situations seem potentially threatening. Naturally, Itto sees right through the director's childish affectations, silencing the aural dread with a well-aimed glare.
A contract issued by a profoundly unsympathetic textiles clan takes Itto and his son Daigoro to a desolate, featureless desert to face the three bodyguards of a fleeing fabrics specialist. Of course, when Robert Houston and David Weisman chewed up this film and its predecessor to create Shogun Assassin they turbocharged the confrontation's pleasingly mundane stakes, promoting the absconding serf from a worried working man to the Shogun's brother. The finicky duo also saw fit to junk most of Baby Cart's deliberately spare sound design, subbing out skin-shearing winds for a Moog synthesiser score. Grunts and sound effects were also added to every little movement, just in case the audience could not discern that the people on-screen were moving. Houston and Weisman were terrified of silence and inactivity, Misumi revelled in them.