"This series of films have been among my absolute favorite since I first saw them more than 30 years ago.
I can remember my first experience with Kozure Ohkami as a young Japanese American youth in early 1970s Los Angeles. One day my friend's dad piled a bunch of us young "JAs" into a Mercury Montego and took us to see the fourth movie in the series, Baby Cart In Peril at the long gone Toho LaBrea Theater. One thing nice about growing up in LA in the '60s and '70s is that we got to see a lot of movies unavailable to many people outside of Japanese American communities during the pre-VCR days. While I grew up watching The Man From UNCLE and Gilligan's Island like all my friends, I also had the bonus of being able to enjoy the exploits of Ogami Itto, Zatoichi and a host of Mifune and Nakadai movies.
During my high school years, my friends and I eagerly awaited each pending showing at the Toho. Parts 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6 were in heavy rotation during the mid to late '70s, but a part 3 was never shown. It wasn't until the mid '90s when AnimEigo released the series on VHS and laserdisc that I was sure that part 3 was in fact Lightning Swords of Death which was released as a dubbed movie for the mass American public in 1975 during the height of the martial arts craze.
When Toho closed down in the late '70s and became a Korean church Itto, Daigoro and the cart-o-fun moved to the Kokusai in West LA. And when Kokusai closed its doors in the late 1980s, the movies were being shown at Little Tokyo Cinema in downtown LA. By then the prints being shown were completely trashed and it was obvious that for years it was the same prints being circulated for 20 years. One second, amidst a smoking overcast field Itto would be facing Yagyu Gunbei, then the next he would be sitting with Daigoro in front of a cooking pot. Three great fight scenes and about 30 minutes of film had been permanently lost.
During the late 1980s I met a fellow at the Japan Expo who had secured the rights to release the Zatoichi series in the US. I asked him if the Sword of Vengeance series would ever become available. Every year I went back to the Expo and asked him the same question, and every year he told me the same thing. He said he was working on it, but since Katsu Shintaro's [Zatoichi himself] company had gone bust, ownership of the 6 Baby Cart films had been dispersed and it would be difficult to gain the rights to all of them. He said he couldn't just go to one person, but had to deal with many different people.
Well imagine my joy when AnimEigo began making these available. During the mid nineties they were released one episode at a time about every two to three months. When the DVDs were released not too long ago I noticed they appeared very different from the laserdiscs. A scene I had mentioned earlier in which Itto fights assassins in a shrine looks entirely different from VHS and laserdisc to DVD. The VHS and laserdisc depict this scene as being very dark. The interior is dimly lit as one would expect of a musty, little used indoor temple. The people are difficult to make out which adds an air of uncertainty and desperation to the fight sequence. However, on the DVD this same scene is extremely bright and well lit. Blood stains that appeared like dark crimson smears on the laserdisc are bright glowing red on the DVD. It struck me as being artificial looking. To be honest, it has been so long since I saw the original in the theaters, I can't remember which is correct. It's probably somewhere in between. But I will say I greatly prefer watching these movies on laserdisc. They appear more film-like, while the DVDs in spots seem overly contrasty and bright. I wonder if this was done intentionally during mastering. Were certain scenes color adjusted just for the DVD? I also noticed that the English translation is different from the theatrical versions to those released by AnimEigo. I had my father, who was born, raised and educated in Japan watch a series of scenes where I remembered the original theatrical subtitles. We then compared them to the subtitles in the current releases. In the instances I could remember the old subtitles, my dad felt the new releases had the more accurate translation.
Some reviewers on this site have commented that these films don't deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with greats like Seven Samurai or even deserve a 5 star rating. I can certainly understand that viewpoint, but I choose to rate films on how they affect me and what they mean to me, not in the overall scheme of movie history. So with that in mind can you imagine the lasting impression a close up of Oyuki's beautiful tattoed breasts made on a young lad in the midst of puberty? Or the shock and repulsion of seeing Retsudo behead his loyal quick change artist and the gushing fountain of blood that ensued. Scenes like that would convince anyone that Japanese have the highest blood pressure of any ethnic group around. I love it!
These films are a look into the morals and trials of Samurai bound to the codes of Bushido during 17th century Japan albeit with a bit of James Bond [especially part 6] mixed in. They're also not too unlike the classic movie Harakiri, in that they focus on the corruptibility of people in high places and the consequences those actions have. Educational and fun! All these films are beautifully photographed, and shot on locations not like the artificial sets of Hong Kong action movies or Japanese Chambara TV serials. Some scenes are unforgettable such as in part 1 when Itto and Kurando face each other in preparation for a duel at sunset in an open field. This scene is also a cinematic example how he who has the advantages of nature does not always prevail in a duel. Another striking image is from part 4. In one scene there's a camera view down on Ogami Itto pushing the cart-of-goodies. The neat thing is that 95% of the screen is filled with a large tiled roof, while Itto and Daigoro only occupy a corner of the frame. On the other hand, action scenes such as when Itto is fighting a large assembly of various Yagyu warriors in a debossed mini maze showcase battlefield swordsmanship in its starkest and most brutal fashion. Many Michael Myers' Halloween techniques are utilized here. In part 1, during a pivotal scene in which Itto and son are seemingly ready to commit seppuku, the subsequent fight is filmed in an eerily silent manner. Ogami Itto runs slently through his house cutting up the Shogun's officials. You hear no foot steps, no screams, no grunts. All you see is the frantic battle and the sound of the blade cutting through flesh. There is some supernatural jumping in these films, but very little flowery swordplay and posing ala Crouching Tiger nor is the fight choreography presented as an effortlessly balletic dance as that of Nakadai Tatsuya's Tsukue Ryunosuke from Sword of Doom. The techniques in Kozure Ohkami are powerful, direct and meant to kill. Instantly. This isn't Kendo. It is a closer to Batto Jutsu which is a modern practice with roots in the battlefield tested techniques of pre-Tokugawa era warriors. Sure there are some flourishes thrown in for effect, but overall the viewer is hit with the powerful and deadly swordplay of Wakayama Tomisaburo. And in that there is great beauty. Even Itto's sword is the famous Dohtanuki which was a beefy, heavy battlefield sword. Definitely not one for the limp-wristed swordsman.
I truly believe these movies are a must see for any western foley effects artist not familiar with the way Japanese weaponry sounds. I don't think I've ever seen an American film get the sound of a katana right. As much as I liked The Last Samurai, I cringed every time I heard a sword being drawn in that movie. Japanese swords are in wooden scabbards [saya], so the sound is metal against wood, not metal-on-metal as in movies about medieval Europe. This may seem like nit-picking to many, but to me it would be like watching Roman Holiday with the voice of Fred Flintstone coming from Audrey Hepburn. It just isn't right!
It's interesting. Until a few years ago I had no idea these films were originally a manga series. And it is nice to know that the people who are fans of Koike Kazuo's books are pleased with these movies. There was an attempt in the early 1980s to adapt the movies to a weekly television series. The show starred Yorozuya Kinnosuke, but I could never get into them. They had a completely different feel from the movies and lacked the over-the-top charm of the 6 originals. I'm also aware that modern movie versions were made and one even has a conclusion to the series. I bought these versions on Ebay several years ago, but still to this day haven't gotten around to watching them. I think that in itself reveals my devotion and narrow-mindedness where these films are concerned.
I hope you enjoy them as well."
Fun movie, faithful to the manga
J. Holt | Seattle, WA USA | 06/21/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"What a great, great movie. I've been getting back into samurai flicks after a long hiatus. I wanted to see this after having seen Kill Bill v.1 -- you can see the influence after watching Lone Wolf and Cub -- and boy, this movie and its vol. 2 sequel (baby cart on river styx) -- great!Clean picture, clean sounds. This is an awesome DVD. I also read the manga before the DVD and can say: it is very faithful to the manga, doing a wonderful job of bringing the Kojima's artwork to the screen. Readers of Dark Horse's manga series, vol. 1 will recognize the care taken to adapt the manga.I showed this film to a bunch of friends and they hooted and hollered. Great fun."
LW&C DVDs are full widescreen
Robert Woodhead | Wilmington, NC United States | 04/22/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Just so there is no confusion, the AnimEigo LW&C DVDs (and all our samurai DVDs) are full widescreen in the original aspect ratio. NOTHING has been chopped off or pan and scanned.NOTHING!The DVDs are 16:9 anamorphic encoded, and since the original films are have higher aspect ratios than this, they are letterboxed.The confusion arises from the fact that if your haven't configured your DVD player and TV correctly (in particular, widescreen TVs), the image can appear either squashed (the Toho logo at the start will be oval) or have the sides clipped off.What you have to do to get the best video quality is1) if you have a widescreen TV, configure the DVD player so that it knows this, and configure the TV so it knows it is getting widescreen video. Be careful about TV modes where it displays a 16:9 image in 4:3 with the edges clipped.2) If you have a regular 4:3 TV, make sure the DVD player is configured this way, otherwise it'll send out a 16:9 signal which will appear squashed on the TV."
LWaC Fans Rejoice!
D. M. Bainbridge | Kalamazoo, MI United States | 09/07/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"For fans of the Lone Wolf and Cub manga, this is a dream come true! The movies follow the story of LWaC very well. Obviously, even when transferring the story into six films, some of the 8000+ page story had to be cut out, but all of the important plot points are there. The DVD transfers for these films are amazing. The picture is crisp, the audio is great and the subtitles are some of the best I have seen. The DVD also comes with a booklet that explains important aspects in 16th century Japanese society for American audiences to better understand the story. Animeigo (Samurai Cinema) is currently transferring their entire Samurai catalog into DVD format and this was their first release and it is very well done. Unfortunately, many people have been tricked into getting the "Shogun Assassin" movie, which is a poor edit of the first few Lone Wolf and Cub films into a single and fairly nonsensical film released by another production company. There is just too much to be told in a single film and it is only with the entire six part story (which this film begins) that one can fully appreciate the ultimate tale of revenge that is Lone Wolf and Cub."
Peter Ingemi | Worcester County, Massachusetts United States | 02/27/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This movie reminds me of the 50's movie Horatio Hornbolower staring Gregory Peck in one important way. It proves that only good things come of having the author of the books write the screenplay.
Since this is based on one of the greatest (if not THE greatest) comics series of all time it had a high standard to meet. It followed the books so exactly that the subtitles were almost unneeded.
I don't know how exagerated the bloodletting was but that is the only fault one can find with the picture. The acting is straight,and the story of Ogami walking the assassins road to avenge his wife and clan is classic.
I personally think it could be an excellent hour long TV series on cable if done correctly, until that day I shall make do with pleasure.
I eagerly await my next paycheck to have the next one."