Lone Wolf And Cub Collection Criterion Blu-ray Review
Criterion’s “Lone Wolf And Cub” collection does not disappoint.
If you love grindhouse fare, Japanese cinema, assassins, and bloody violence, the “Lone Wolf And Cub” series has you covered. The 6 film franchise (which is based on the manga series of the same name) is an epic story of honor, family, murder, and revenge. You also get to see actor Tomisaburo Wakayama be a total badass as Ogami.
In case you have no idea what I am talking about worry not as I am going to break down the series film by film. So, without further adieu…
“Lone Wolf And Cub: Sword Of Vengeance” is the first film in the series and it is easily one of the best. It tells the story of a shogunate executioner for the Tokugawa shogun named Ogami who is screwed over by the jealous Shadow Yagyu clan. You see, Yagyu wants Ogami’s position and decides to frame him and murder his wife. Vowing vengeance against Yagyu, Ogami flees and embarks on a journey across the countryside with his young son (Daigoro) where he picks up assassin for hire jobs. And so begins the saga! As you can likely tell, the film introduces viewers to the world of “Lone Wolf And Cub” and it does it well. It sets the stage for what is to come which leads me to…
“Lone Wolf And Cub: Baby Cart At The River Styx” is often cited as the best of the series and for good reason. It is. In the second film, Ogami and Daigoro dodge assassination attempts from female ninjas and the Masters of Death. Ogami also accepts a mission to kill a traitor looking to sell a secret involving indigo dye. Not only does ‘Styx’ contain glorious action, but it also further explores the father/son dynamic. It’s simply the most well rounded of the series.
“Lone Wolf And Cub: Baby Cart To Hades” is perhaps the most cerebral and darkest installment as it deals with rape, torture, gangsters, and murder galore. The story involves Ogami dealing with a swordsman, helping a prostitute, and, of course, taking on another assassination mission.
“Lone Wolf And Cub: Baby Cart In Peril” is a top tier sequel involving a tattooed deserter sword wielding woman (O-Yuki) that has been marked for death by Ogami. Of course, it wouldn’t be a “Lone Wolf And Cub” film if the Yagyu clan wasn’t involved in some way. Despite having a weird structure, this is an action packed sequel that offers some surprising character moments (mostly involving O-Yuki and Ogami).
“Lone Wolf And Cub: Baby Cart In The Land Of Demons” finds Ogami’s skills being tested before he embarks on a mission to assassinate a Buddhist Priest. There’s also a subplot with Diagoro and a pickpocket. Between the prolonged goofy set-up and the lackluster writing, this is easily the weakest of the series.
“Lone Wolf And Cub: White Heaven In Hell” is the final installment and boy is it a weird one. It’s the most comic booky of the lot even though this one is not based on any manga story! The plot finds Retsudo Yagyu and his remaining family members continuing their quest to stop Ogami. There’s also earth burrowing zombie warriors out to get Ogami. Yes, you read that right. Weirdness aside, this is an atmospheric and thrilling finale that is well worth watching if for no other reason than to witness the massive climactic battle in the snow.
It should be noted that “Shogun Assassin” is also included in this set as an extra feature. The 1980 cult classic is an English dubbed film that combines the first 2 films in the “Lone Wolf And Cub” series. Personally, I prefer just watching the first 2 films myself, but I recognize that a lot of people treasure this film.
Presentation: 2.40:1. How does it look? The 2k digital restorations for all 6 films are nothing short of astonishing. The picturesque exterior sequences in particular really showcase the beauty of the restoration.
Audio Track: Japanese Uncompressed Mono. How does it sound? The tracks sound a little on the soft side at times, but when they spring to life it’s all good.
* A booklet featuring an essay by author Patrick Macias. Patrick also provides a breakdown of each film. Credits for each of the 6 films is also included.
* Trailers for all 6 “Lone Wolf And Cub” films.
* “Shogun Assassin” (as previously mentioned). A trailer for the film is also included.
* “Lame D’un Pere, L’ame D’un, Sabre”- A 52 minute 2005 documentary about the making of the Lone Wolf and Cub series that contains film clips, interviews, and discussions about the history of how the film series came about, the manga, the cast, the films, and more.
* An involving interview with “Lone Wolf and Cub” manga writer Kazuo Koike. He talks about how the series came about, the manga world, the world of “Lone Wolf and Cub,” mythology, etc.
* An interview with Kazuma Nozawa about director Kenji Misumi and his life and work.
* An interview with Suio-ryu martial arts headmaster Sensei Yoshimitsu Katsuse about martial arts, Suio-ryu, and more.
* A silent 1939 documentary about the making of a samurai sword. Viewers can play it silent or with an optional score.
Overall Thoughts: The “Lone Wolf And Cub” series stands as one of Criterion’s best releases this year.
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