Thursday, 1 December 2016

Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril

The Lone Wolf and Cub series takes place within a society that fetishes death. Life under the Shogunate is a brief, transitory state where something as final as suicide becomes a bureaucratic equaliser for elites who have fallen out of favour. There's always a sense in these films that the lives of commoners are worth very little. The brutal, pre-industrial caste system places them at the bottom of the heap, to be used as playthings by a sadistic ruling class. Former state executioner Ogami Itto would seem to be an exemplification of these horrifying, fatalistic ideas, since he kills basically everyone who crosses his path, but Itto's ire is aimed firmly at the untouchables who govern the nation.

In Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril Itto is tasked with eliminating Michie Azuma's Oyuki, a renegade bodyguard who has turned on the household that raised her up from a wandering circus performer to the servant of a prominent feudal lord. Oyuki is discussed as an aberration, she's a woman who has dared to bite the hand that feeds, committing violence not only against the lord's men but the entire concept of samurai chivalry. Naturally, this is enough to arouse sympathy in Itto. He still kills her, of course, but he also goes on to manufacture a series of situations in which the people who wronged her come to sticky ends themselves.

Buichi Saito takes over directing duties from Kenji Misumi for this fourth Baby Cart instalment. Saito's major contribution to the roaming, episodic house style is the decision to dispense with Misumi's oblique, illusory framing. Baby Cart in Peril, despite introducing elements that are firmly supernatural, loses Mizumi's deliberately hazy sense of proceedings, punching up the brief run time with multiple voice-overs that explain the concepts guiding people's actions. Action scenes, frenzied and chaotic under Misumi, now advance along strictly ordered horizontal plains that show off Tomisaburo Wakayama's snappy in-camera stunt work. His Itto is presented as less emotionally superhuman in this film too. He isn't just stone throughout, Saito and Wakayama finding a way into Lone Wolf's stuffy emotions. After Daigoro scrapes through yet another dangerous incident, we see this strange father visibly moved, clutching his tiny son close to him.

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