As I reviewed the Shogun Assassin boxed set here, I’ve explicitly stated how much I love that set and what it means to me. That cut of Shogun Assassin is something that I find synonymous with my love of hip hop music and its culture. With this new Lone Wolf and Cub Blu-Ray set, we are given a true and proper introduction to Ogami Itto, his son Daigoro and their path of vengeance, spanning across six films. The series was created in 1970 by writer Kazuo Koike and artist Goseki Kojima, which eventually led this film adaptation done by Toho Studios in 1972. All six films star Tomisaburo Wakayama as Oagami Itto and Akihiro Tomikawa as his young son Daigoro, together as they walk the path of vengeance in the Edo Period of Japan.
From the very opening of the first film, Sword of Vengeance, we learn of the dedication and vigilance that Ogami Itto carries in his duties as executioner, strictly through his actions. While the Shogun Assassin voice over still gets the story across, its another thing to see this journey begin in this first film. It is from this opening that we learn on why he poses a major threat to the Yagyu clan, in that he is everything, from his values to his abilities, that the Yagyu are not and cannot fit into the future of Japan that they wish to create from the shadows. Only 11 minutes is used from Sword of Vengeance to supply the set up for Shogun Assassin, which leaves the film only to resonate through its violence and not with the tragic origin of our main character. One thing remotely removed from Shogun Assassin, are the first two films’ pacing and mindset of Ogami Itto. The stillness and introspection of this character on the path of vengeance, with his honor intact, is restored in the first two films and the traditional slow pacing of Japanese cinema that helps give a larger sense of the overall tone and story of Koike’s original manga.
Each of the films gets larger and larger, in scope and the adversaries that Itto must face. Sword of Vengeance pits him against a small group of thugs in a small hillside town. By the time we get to the third film, Lone Wolf and Cub:Baby Cart to Hades, the swordsman is battling against entire armies, with the cart of hidden weapons and his son helping him. While these films showcase huge amounts of violence, there’s a certain vitality to them, that has never been replicated in any other adaptation of Lone Wolf and Cub. This also reflects how Japanese cinema, at that time, took big risks in providing visceral cinema, along the lines of Kinji Fukusaku’s Battles Without Honor or Humanity with both the yakuza and chambara genres.
The Blu-Ray set houses all six films on two discs, with the inclusion of all of Animeigo’s liner notes from the previous DVD release, in a single Blu-Ray case. The video on the set is presented in a 1080p, AVC encoded transfer, with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. There’s a bit of a difference in this set and the Shogun Assassin one, in that there has been some use of Digital Noise Reduction. I didn’t find it to be that bad and I still managed to enjoy all six films, without having to be distracted by the manipulated video track. I certainly noticed, with the track looking a bit too clean, but I didn’t think that it was anything to get up in arms about and still presented a clear enough picture. The audio is presented in an uncompressed Mono mix, that gave the film a nice presentation, minus points of some noise floor hiss, that becomes apparent a few times throughout the six films.
This Lone Wolf and Cub Blu-Ray set deserves to be in any person’s collection, that considers themselves a fan of Japanese cinema, Samurai films and loves a good blood bath. While I hold Shogun Assassin very close to my heart, it is in this set that we are treated to an adaptation of Koike and Kojima’s Lone Wolf and Cub that is absolutely brilliant and rewards the viewer with a journey of a man and his son that they’ll never forget. Highly Recommended!