“Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in the Land of Demons” – A.J. Hakari

The world of the comic book movie is a strange one. By and large, sequels are looked upon with disdain as shameless invasions of one’s wallet, but those follow-ups stemming from the printed page are usually exempt. Fans like seeing their heroes in action, and as long as they’re given something constructive to do, sequels tend to be forgiven (or even encouraged). No series exemplifies this better than the manga-based Lone Wolf and Cub films, whose only stipulation be that each one be bigger and bloodier than the last. Baby Cart in the Land of Demons is the fifth flick at bat, and it does its franchise proud by not only honoring its legacy of blood but by standing alone as its own inspired hunk of samurai lunacy.

After four movies of cutting down an endless rabble of would-be assailants, you’d think Ogami Itto (Tomisaburo Wakayama) would be the last guy who’d have to prove himself. But for a clan whose future is in peril, this sword for hire has to show off what he’s got before he takes on his most dangerous mission yet. Five clansmen are dispatched to find Ogami, engage him in battle, and, should they suffer defeat, supply him with another piece to the puzzle. One by one, Ogami slices his way to learning more about the assignment, one involving a false heir and a turncoat priest en route to squeal to the Shogunate. But the plot thickens when Ogami is asked to turn against the very people who hired him, a task further complicated when he learns the scheme bears the mark of his old foes the Yagyus.

If there’s any theme connecting the various plot threads flailing about Baby Cart in the Land of Demons, it’s devotion. Samurai films are no stranger to resolve or dedication, such ideas being mainstays for anyone who lives their life Bushido style. But in terms of lending substance to what would otherwise be unabashed pulp fiction, they work like a charm here. It’s a good thing, too, since Baby Cart in the Land of Demons runs into some muddled plotting on occasion that you’ll be struggling to make sense of. Getting lost in the story is easy when it comes down to members of the same clan clashing with one another, with the treacherous Yagyu boys thrown in for good measure. There’s even an extended scene involving a female pickpocket (Tomomi Sato) and Ogami’s son Daigoro (Akihiro Tomikawa) that really has nothing to do with anything. Still, they do just the trick when it comes to explaining and enhancing character motivation (especially one who swears loyalty to the very man she’s trying to bring down).

But if honor, courage, and all those underlying themes aren’t your bag, then Baby Cart in the Land of Demons has you covered with its trademark blades and bloodshed. Ogami’s duels with the five clansmen make up just a short portion of the film, but the encounters are riveting nonetheless, tinged with the right touch of tweaks and twists. After these scenes wrap up, the film enters a bit of down time before the next round of battles, but once it does, boy, do things kick into high gear. With two sides being played against the middle, Ogami finds himself at ground zero for all manner of dismembered limbs and halved corpses. The violence is executed in appropriately overdone fashion, and Wakayama plays the master of the Horse-Slaying Technique like the pro that he is. Though as solemn as ever, Wakayama gets to flex his acting muscles ever so slightly; just watch the subtlety with which he admits one of the few defeats of his illustrious, butt-kicking career).

Ogami Itto is an antihero for the ages, and Baby Cart in the Land of Demons captures his exploits in all their excessive, grisly glory. Akira Kurosawa may be the undisputed champ when it comes to jidaigeki, but the extravagant thrills of Lone Wolf and Cub can’t be beat, a case of which Baby Cart in the Land of Demons is Exhibit A.

Rating: ★★★☆

-A.J. Hakari

Read more of A.J.’s reviews at ReelTalk Movie Reviews, Classic Movie Guide, and Terror Tube.

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