i'm sure I have mentioned the happy years we spent in the early 80s, watching Japanese movies at the Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline. We'd get a season's pass and watch one or two double bills a week. We only watched one Lone Wolf and Cub (1972) film, and actually didn't care that much for it. But I thought I'd give it another try.
It stars Tomisaburo Wakayama as the Lone Wolf. He starts out as the shogun's executioner - actually, his official "second", the person who decapitates someone when they commit seppuku. This relieves them of the agony of disembowelment, and also makes sure they are dead, so someone condemned to kill themselves can't wimp out. He gets embroiled in political intrigue, and his wife is killed. Then he is framed in a plot to kill the Shogun, and forced to go on the run with his infant son.
He first gives the kid a choice. He sets out a ball and a sword. If the boy picks the ball, he will be sent to join his mother (in Heaven). If he chooses the the sword, he will join his father on the road to Hell - revenge. Since he picks the sword, our hero and the boy will roam Japan, seeking revenge.
In this installment, he heads for a hot springs that has been taken over by criminals. The first person he meets is a crazy woman who thinks that his baby is hers, and nursing him. This is an odd mix of eroticism, maternity, and madness - it all adds up to exploitation. That mood gets worse when the bad guys force Lone Wolf to publicly semi-rape a prostitute to degrade them both. He does so with such gentle manliness that she falls in love with him.
Then he kills everyone, the end.
There's a lot of sordid sex and ultra-violence in these movies. There's a lot of zen warrior philosophy, with Wolf reminding Cub that they were already dead, so there is nothing to be afraid of. This is a very stylish movie, as well as a silly one (come on, killer baby carriage?). It was fun to watch, but we only watched the first movie - there were two one the first disc - and we probably won't order any more. That kind of confirms what we thought the first time around.