Thursday, 17 November 2016

Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance

Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance introduces us to Ogami Itto, a man with an unwavering conviction that he is correct. Wronged by a ninja clan looking to muscle in on his cushy position within a terrifying regime, Itto abandons the Samurai code to wander the land with his infant son as an assassin-for-hire. As with Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kajima's original manga, Sword of Vengeance takes a unique tact with its hero. Itto is portrayed in inhuman terms, demonstrating no flaws or failings. His sense of self is airtight, completely unpolluted by the thoughts and feelings of those around him. He doesn't have conversations with people, even those he loves, instead he makes statements and issues diktats.

This assuredness leaks out of Itto and into the film itself, most crucially in how director Kenji Misumi uses sound to signal shifts in temporal space. The film is structured as a series of instances that demonstrate a typical mission for the duo. Along the way, Itto's mind wanders and replays the events that set him down this path. When we share Itto's headspace, the character's certainty is expressed in how little diegetic sound registers on the film's audio mix. Although rain lashes down incessantly, Itto's memories are focused entirely on his words and those of his foes. Everything else is extraneous detail and is therefore deleted.

Celebrated magnificent stranger films like Yojimbo or A Fistful of Dollars at least flirt with the idea that their hero can be damaged. We get a taste of fatigue bleeding in around the edges before the wanderer vanquishes his enemies and wins the day. Sword of Vengeance is different in that there's never a second in which Itto seems truly vulnerable. Indeed, the mistake all of his adversaries keep making is their belief that this is even a possibility. Regardless of their station in life, Itto's opponents think using the patterns and models they've learnt from a society based on class and strict formal behaviour. These largely ceremonial traps fail because Itto has forsaken such petty limitations and decided to be a monster instead. As such, their words and deeds are completely useless against him.

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