Tuesday, 22 November 2016
Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades
The Baby Cart films consistently explore what it is to be an individual within a failing system. These films, like Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima's manga series, contextualise Ogami Itto's powerful, singular focus as a force that works in direct opposition to the lethal bureaucracy of the Shogunate regime and the cynical ambitions of this ruling class. Itto stands outside the norm, refusing to conform to any external behavioural code. He doesn't require the input of lesser minds. His identity is complete, his will unshakeable.
On the surface, Tomisaburo Wakayama's Itto is a mangy ronin who, by refusing to commit ritual suicide, has irreparably damaged his name and legacy. Further, Itto's decision to sell his lethal abilities to anyone who can afford them has placed him so far beyond the pale that he is widely considered a beast. These perspective presupposes that those that conform and thrive within Japan's rigid, feudal castes are on a higher moral plane than those that do not. Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades torpedoes this notion, exposing the officer class as a sham - broken clans turn to organised crime and sex trafficking to survive while low-class Samurai use their last remaining shred of status to rape with impunity.
Kenji Misumi's film imagines genuine merit as something valuable and perhaps even incomprehensible to those who do not possess it. It frightens them, threatening to expose their own shortcomings. People who truly understand the path Lone Wolf and Cub have chosen are also few and far between, so when someone appears who combines both these aspects the film bends over backwards to ensure we're clued in to their importance. At Baby Cart to Hades' conclusion Itto faces an entire army, making incredibly short work of them. They are conformers and therefore do not matter. Go Kato's Kanbei, another disgraced Samurai, is treated differently. Misumi pores over Kanbei's encounter with Itto because it is a cathartic experience for both men. Although they will never fight side-by-side they have each, finally, met another person who understands the burden of being exceptional.