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Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx – Review

by Dane Benko

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The second installment of the Lone Wolf and Cub series starts right off with the battle as Ogami and Daigoro’s path are crossed by some more Yagyu Shadow Clan swordsmen to establish that the hunt is on. Taking care of them in short order, Ogami is still perturbed by the paranoia-inducing music that seems to be following him wherever he travels.

From there the story mirrors the previous installments’ double-narrative structure, but much more fluidly. So a breakdown:

The first story involves a new villain named Sayaka, head of the Yagyu Clan in Akashi, who is approached by Ozunu, leader of the Korukuya (the Shogunate’s official spies). Ozunu and his shinobi want Sayaka’s aide in killing Ogami once he crosses into Akashi territory; Sayaka is happy to order her clanswomen to oblige.

The second is another conscription for Ogami. It seems the Chamberlain of the Awa Clan, Hirano Ichirobe, is worried that his former headman Makuya is going to give away the secrets of the Awa clan’s indigo production (which the Awa clan has a monopoly over) after the clan weeded out and executed Shogunate spies sent to incite riot. Ichirobe wants Makuya assassinated, but for the problem that the deadly Hidari brothers, three expert ronin with a variety of novel weaponry and techniques among them, were sent by the Shogunate to accompany Makuya’s escape from the region.

This two-storyline structure interweaves better than the first installment as the Akashi Yagyu Clanswomen and other baddies are placed across Lone Wolf and Cub’s slow progress toward Eiruki to confront the Hidari brothers. Now that the characters of Ogami and Daigoro are established, the series expands the world a bit and even gets Daigoro in for the fun as he starts learning a few of his father’s creative tricks.

Director Kenji Misumi also manages to up the ante on the action of the previous film, a trend that will be interesting to see if he maintains throughout the entire series. In addition to adding more pressure to the blood-spraying prosthetics, cinematography and editing add an exceptional visual quality to the choreography, making this series one of the top of its genre. An attack by women wearing stripped patterns sets Ogami’s (and the viewer’s) head spinning in a psychedelic montage in one sequence, and in another a group of Akashi Yagyu Clanswomen chop a shinobi limb-for-limb in creative cutaways (pun not intended).

The characters are improving too, if for any reason than that there are more women in for the fights and not every conflict is resolved entirely by the slice of a blade. Longer-term relationships may be developing, such as a give and take between Sayaka and Ogami, and how Daigoro is sometimes forced to step up to the plate and take care of his father as well. At one point Ogami says, “It is foolish to simply accept everything that happens. One must try one’s best before one bows to fate,” and as more characters are getting involved, their fates are increasingly decided by how they choose their allegiances.

A note on the English translation of this title: it transcribes the river Sanzu, “River to the three Hells”, to the river Styx of Greek mythology.

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Author: Dane Benko

Dane is an independent filmmaker and freelancer in Albuquerque, NM. Japanese cinema is a particular fascination of his.

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