Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance (1972)
Genre: Samurai Period Action Drama Serial (Japan)
Starring: Tomisaburo Wakayama (Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold, The Ninja)
Directed By: Kenji Misumi (Hanzo the Razor: Sword of Justice, Zatoichi and the Chess Expert)
Overview: An executioner loyal to the Shogunate is framed by jealous rivals. After they murder his wife, they decree that he and his child is to be next. He vows then to slay all his betrayers until his name is cleared. He and his young son become Lone Wolf and Cub, ronin for hire.
Acting: The fan of the Samurai film won't bat an eyelash at the zeal put forth in these films. Like the world-renowned productions of Akira Kurosawa, this also follows typical rules of over-emphasis, but in that awesome way you remember The Bride's Master, Pai Mei, doing it in Kill Bill: Vol. 2, just a little too much on purpose to get the point across.
Cinematography: Decapitations, sweeping arcs delivering fatal blows followed by spraying blood, a broken blade-tip stuck in the gurgling, splashing neck of an assailant, this is the sort of stuff you'll be looking forward to. This is the kind of samurai film where they try to make gore a pleasant surprise, realistic and original to the max. Not that I've seen many men get sliced open or have their legs cut off, but I think this does it well without going too overboard, unlike Ricky-Oh: The Story of Ricky, for example. A beautiful and exciting film filled with unique and distinct-looking scenes and characters, not no mention dynamic camerawork to boot.
Script: Once upon a time (1970), someone decided to write a manga (Japanese comic) about a high ranking Shogunate Executioner (awesome). Two years later a director picked up this then-famous manga and decided to transfer it's greatness to the screen. What's wonderful about this is that the script may be even TOO intricate. This is not 'a guy going around chopping stuff up cause he was hired to'. There's a real reason he's killing, and it runs far deeper than vengeance. His character is perfectly written, because he's complex in his development.
Plot: The betrayal of a man with such high standing in the Shogunate, and the attempt at his destruction at the hands of rivals is a great story. But when you realize that it's just the beginning, setting up the development of his son's character, his code of honour, the choices he makes and the vows he swears, and then from THAT point going to yet another chapter, you may think this is all too much crammed in too quickly. Well it's not. It's amazing and I'm hooked.
Mood: There is amazing storyboarding here. Clearly, much like with Sin City, which obviously ensured that the film used the original manga to set up the visual displays, we have a look to a film which is more fantastical that common, more stylized than usual, the vision of one rather than the input of many. Add the dazzling familiarity of a Samurai film that has obviously inspired many films since, and you have yourself some real entertainment worthy of sequel after sequel. Turns out there's a bunch...
Overall Rating: 90% (Vengeance Never Felt So Right!)
Aftertaste: I turned to my girlfriend and said, "Babe, I'm into Samurai movies." "Duh, I know that." was her answer. She knew before I did. I thought I was this hardcore art-house fan who was all about the Art and Avant-Garde with a secret pleasure in the enjoyment of the Horror genre. Old-School Samurai films (and the similar modern permutations, be they Tarantino or 1970s Sexploitation) turns out, is getting to be a genre I find interfering with my 'Serious Films Studies'. It's like reading dirty magazines in study hall. It's fun and I'll keep doing it!