1/4, 1970s, Action, Buichi Saito, Review

Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril

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#6 in my ranking of the Lone Wolf and Cub franchise.

The franchise loses its original director, Kenji Misumi, for Buichi Saito, and Saito takes the fourth movie into a much more purely exploitative direction and the semblance of serious consideration of the samurai code that had been intermittently addressed gets tossed aside fully for empty action and titillation. This is the low point of the franchise up to this point.

Like every Lone Wolf and Cub film up to this point, Baby Cart in Peril is made up of multiple, barely connected storylines not terribly well woven together. The most prominent here is around Ogami taking a contract to kill a female assassin with a tattoo of a mountain witch on her back and mythical baby grabbing her breast on her chest. The movie begins, not with Ogami killing people in a badass display, but with Oyuki, the female assassin, doing it. Ogami has to track her down, going through her father, the leader of a large group of street performers, to find her. We get her back story, introducing her chief antagonist, a sorcerer with a flaming sword, in a flashback.

In the middle of this is an unrelated swordsman, Gunbei Yagyu, the man Ogami defeated in a contest to become the Shogunate Executioner and, apparently, was the source of the antagonism that drove the entire Yagyu Clan to moving against Ogami in the first film. Gunbei was exiled by his father for his failure, but another man, who put on a Gunbei mask, committed seppuku in his place. In an extended sequence, Ogami’s son gets separated from his father and comes across Gunbei who figures out, through Daigoro’s death stare, that he is Ogami’s son. Ogami quickly dispatches Gunbei though, cutting off one arm and refusing to kill him for he is already dead.

Ogami tracks down Oyuki at a hot spring. She confronts her sorcerer mentor who raped her, kills him, and then Ogami fulfills his contract by killing her. I think there’s supposed to be some tenderness in the moment, but she’s barely a character, Ogami has never really been interesting, and they barely interact. It’s an empty moment.

Then, the final big spectacle comes, and it’s…the old Yagyu leader from the first movie showing up with an army that Ogami has to fight off. Now, for all that I enjoyed Baby Cart to Hades, one of its low points was the one versus a hundred fight that capped the movie. This third sequel makes the same mistake but chops the action up into smaller, more ridiculous pieces. Ogami shoots the guns from his baby cart multiple times without reloading. He gets stabbed multiple times. He jumps, he flips, and he wins the day, eventually limping away after Daigoro pulls a sword from his back. The leader of that Yagyu clan gets a sword to the eye, but lives, and Gunbei watches it all from afar, swearing to be the one to kill Ogami in the future. Considering how much this franchise has been just dropped along the way, I wonder if we’ll see either of them again.

These movies have always had a focus problem, shoving a couple of different stories together that never really belonged, but the director of the first three films, Misumi, had a better command of the individual elements so that even if the overall story never quite came together, at least the individual elements were entertaining enough. Here, the individual pieces don’t even seem to work on their own. Gunbei is an information dump of backstory in flashback mixed with prosaic pronouncements around small things necessary to give him information needed so that he can remained involved long enough for Ogami to show up. Oyuki is an excuse for naked breasts and having some more thin badassery.

I have no problem with a story dedicated to delivering little more than genre thrills, but don’t muddle it up with terrible, unfocused storytelling. I’m still waiting for a Lone Wolf and Cub adventure where he’s presented with one clear goal that feels huge and needs to be overcome with clear objectives along the way. Having Ogami stop his adventure to have another small adventure that distracts from the first, and neither gets any real time to breathe or feel real is a frustrating experience.

This fourth entry in the franchise was a slog.

Rating: 1/4

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