Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx (1972)
Having been to the Boston Public Library for the first time, I decided to take an opportunity to get into the Lone Wolf and Cub series of films; however, I mistakenly picked up Baby Cart at the River Styx, which is in fact the second movie in the series.
Lone Wolf and Cub (子連れ狼, Kozure Ohkami), based on the manga of the same name, follows Ogami Itto (played by Wakayama Tomisaburo) and his son Daigoro (Tomikawa Akihiro) as they embark on a path of revenge on the Yagyuu clan after the brutal murder of Itto’s wife and his wrongful disgrace. Baby Cart at the River Styx picks up with Ogami battling female shinobi of the Yagyuu clan and assassinating someone about to sell secrets of his clan’s indigo dye.
I’ll put out the disclaimer that many of the problems I had with this movie may have stemmed from the fact that I didn’t see the first movie in the Lone Wolf and Cub series. That said, here goes.
Baby Cart at the River Styx was an absolutely gorgeous-looking movie. AnimEigo really went the extra mile in restoring the movie for the DVD release, allowing Baby Cart at the River Styx to rival movies I’ve seen on Blu-Ray. The blood (there was a whole lot of it in this movie) was very vivid. I saw beautiful scenes of the forest, the desert, and out at sea.
That said, the things I enjoyed about this movie ended there. The movie’s editing made following the story quite a bit harder than it should have been. The scenes transitioned in a way that required me to fill a bit more in with my imagination than I would’ve liked. I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that Baby Cart at the River Styx was attempting to tell two stories in one movie. I would’ve liked to see the shinobi story all on its own with the sellout assassination occupying a separate movie. The plot felt like it was just a series of excuses for Ogami to kill people in gory ways. He was all but invincible in this movie, so I really had a hard time feeling any suspense in any of the fight scenes.
This problem may have stemmed from the fact that this movie was made while the Lone Wolf and Cub manga was still ongoing. It was clear the writers took two chapters from the manga and made a movie out of it without really putting a lot of thought into how the movie would stand on its own.
Since this movie was adapted from a manga, I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was to see acting that would have been more appropriate for an anime series than for a live-action movie. Matsuo Kayo as Yagyuu Sayaka, while very easy on the eyes, gave a performance that was reminiscent of Science Ninja Team Gatchaman’s Berg Katse. Wakayama consistently chewed the scenery up even without speaking very much.
I’ve been watching a lot of Japanese period pieces lately. The Lone Wolf and Cub series was in fact produced by Katsu Shintaro, who was Zatoichi. I have also seen the film adaptation of Rurouni Kenshin last year. Both as a period movie involving a lot of swordfighting and as a manga adaptation, there were movies that did it better than Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx. While it did get an average user rating of 8.1 out of 10 on IMDb, this is probably the first Japanese movie I’ve seen I would actually qualify as being a bad movie.