Archive for April, 2009

To blog or not to blog? Is that a question?

Posted in Blue Underground, Dario Argento, Random Talk with tags , , on April 30, 2009 by eibonblog

I’ve been a bit quiet of late due to collecting rather than actually watching the films. I’ve been gathering together all the Jean Rollin directed films I don’t already have, all the Hammer Horror films I don’t own, and completing my Giallo library (using spreadsheets no less!). It’s very geeky work, but very worthwhile. It makes me realise just how many more of these films I am still yet to see! It’s a nice feeling to know that many of my potential future favourites could potentially be undiscovered. I just wish I had more time in the day to watch them!

 Also I’ve recently received Blu-ray copies of Two Evil Eyes (1990) and Vanishing Point (1971), which I haven’t had a chance to watch fully yet, but after a quick glance I can say they are huge improvements on what has been released before. I do so love high definition. It really lets the films shine as they were originally intended. With Blue Underground already on the Blu train, and Severin with several titles on the way… I really hope some more of the cult labels follow suit.

 Other exciting news is that Shameless films have confirmed that their print for Footprints (1975) aka Le Orme is looking fantastic and is confirmed for an August 2009 release. I simply cannot wait! It’s one of the finest examples of a trippy giallo there is, and as yet has only been available from a very washed out VHS source.

Advertisements

Lone Wolf & Cub (1972-1974)

Posted in 1972, 1973, 1974, Martial Arts with tags , , , on April 8, 2009 by eibonblog

Lone Wolf & Cub (1972)The Lonewolf & Cub sextet of films are a personal genre favourite of mine, blending together everything that’s great about martial arts, OTT blood spilling, Japanese culture, and gorgeous feudal Japan landscapes and women. The series of films is known by many names; Kozure Okami in Japan, Babycart Series, and of course the Lonewolf & Cub Series. Prior to becoming films the story originated from a popular Japanese Gekiga or Manga cartoon strip. They also made some theatrical plays and a television series from it, but I’ve not seen anything of those.

The premise of the story chronicles the exploits of Ogami Itto, the Shogun’s executioner or second. In a time and culture where honour and the way of the warrior is everything, the corrupt shadow Yagyu clan puts into an action that disagraces the house of Itto, and kills his wife. Faced with the decision to either commit suicide to clear the honour of the house of Itto, or to become like a demon and follow the path of the assassin… he (thankfully for us) chooses the latter. He also gives his then baby son, Daigoro, the same choice… the sword or the ball. Choosing the ball would send his baby son to be with his now dead mother, or choosing the sword would mean becoming a demon like his father at the crossroads of hell. Choosing the sword we are left with Lonewolf & his cub. What follows is the most bloody, savage journey through feudal Japan by Itto you could imagine. Pushing a now three year old Daigoro around in a babycart/pram that has a few tricks up its sleeve… seeking revenge on the evil Yagyu clan. The films are really as good as it sounds!

The first three films were all released in 1972, were directed by Kenji Misumi, and produced by Shintaro Katus (the eponymous star of the Zatoichi film series, and also the brother of the star of these films).

These films were later to gain an infamous notoriety, but not in this guise. Shogun Assassin (1980) was produced for American audiences as an English language compilation, edited mainly from the second film, but with 11 minutes of additional set-up footage from the first film. This version of the film shot to fame in the ‘video nasties’ debacle of the early 80s, and was promptly banned from the UK. I’m not a huge fan of this edit, as I feel it leaves out some very important parts of the storytelling that contribute to the entire series. As a standalone no-nonsense action flick though, it is superb. They then decided to release the third film as Shogun Assassin 2: Lightning Swords Of Death to English speaking audiences.

 The last three films were then released over the period of 1972 to 1974, and were produced by Ogami Itto himself… the incredible Tomisaburo Wakayama who is master samurai personified. Never before on screen has someone been so intimidating, and so commanding on the screen. You honestly believe that he can slaughter armies of ninja & swordsman (which he often does!). He despatches his enemies with a speed and cold efficiency that is just breathtaking to behold. Oh boy does he despatch them! Fountains of blood gush high into the air, severed limbs fly, heads roll, entire bodies are cleaved in half. The gore level is simply incredible. If you’ve ever seen the great section in Kill Bill at The House Of Blue Leaves where she has the huge sword fight against the Crazy 88… imagine that, but 10 times more spectacular and gory… and then you’ve got one of the tamer fight scenes in the Babycart series. They’re really that good! You can clearly see where Mr Tarantino got some inspiration from in his film, as he acknowledges in part 2 where the young daughter is actually watching her favourite film… Shogun Assassin.

The first film is Sword Of Vengeance (1972).

Sword Of Vengeance (1972) 

After the killing of his wife by the Yagyus, Ogami Itto gives his young son Daigoro the choice between instant death (a ball) and the life of the ronin (a sword). As the child reaches for the sword, father and son’s fate is sealed to a life of violence and tragedy. Wheeling Daigoro through the countryside in a pram rigged with deadly surprises, Itto comes to a town held hostage by bandits, where he is to stop a planned assassination of an official. The first film is a little slower than the others, but it sets the tone beautifully. The final duel between Ogami and the Yagyu man at dawn is staggering and also beautifully filmed. Although extremely violent and gore-drenched, the film remains highly stylised and remarkably intelligent.

Sword Of Vengeance (1972)
Sword Of Vengeance (1972)

The second film in the series is the terrific Babycart At The River Styx (1972).

Babycart At River Styx (1972)
Babycart At River Styx (1972)
Babycart At River Styx (1972)
Babycart At River Styx (1972)

The second installment in the Lone Wolf and Cub saga finds Ogami hired to kill a defecting worker about to reveal the secrets of a prosperous clan’s dyeing process to Ogami’s nemesis Lord Retsudo Yagyu. Little does Ogami know that Lord Yagyu has sent a gang of female ninjas to kill him, and that he will have to fight a vicious trio of brothers sent to escort the informer. The bond between father and son is intensified as Daigoro assists Ogami in his quest, and nurses him when he is critically injured. Boasting more action than the initial installment, Baby Cart at River Styx is also beautifully photographed, with style to spare and great period atmosphere; this episode is considered by some to be one of the best of the series. Not for me though, I consider the next installment to be worthy of that title. This title did however make up the bulk of Shogun Assassin, and contains much of the gore-soaked footage that no doubt led to it being banned.

The third title in the sextet of films is the absolutely incredible Babycart To Hades, which is probably my favourite installment (either this or the fourth).

Babycart To Hades (1972)
Babycart To Hades
Babycart To Hades (1972)

Ogami hired by a female yakuza to kill a corrupt governor. While wandering the countryside, Ogami stumbles upon a brutal crime being committed by three mercenaries accompanied by the ronin Kanbei. After killing the mercenaries, Ogami refuses to do battle with the ronin, taking refuge in a nearby town. It is there that Ogami meets Toizo and is offered the job of assassinating the corrupt governor Gamba. After exposing the previous leader’s mental illness and exploiting it to his own benefit, Gamba is now the wealthy and powerful leader of the clan. Gamba attempts to hire Ogami to kill the previous governor, then suspects that he is Ogami’s intended target after he refuses the job. His suspicions are confirmed, as Ogami is led into a treacherous series of cat-and-mouse games with Gamba’s men. What follows is an incredible orgy of violence as Ogami single-handedly faces off against an entire army of men, then faces Kanbei on the blood-drenched battlefield.

I love this installment, it has everything. Fantastic fights and battles, beautiful women, and a some interesting developments to the main characters. At times it’s almost like watching a live-action cartoon. I’ve never seen this style bettered.

 

Part four is the thrilling Babycart In Peril (1972). It depends on what day you ask me, but I’ll either say this or part three are my favourite installment.

Babycart In Peril (1972)
 Babycart In Peril (1972)
Babycart In Peril (1972)
Babycart In Peril (1972)

A group of grieving widows hires Ogami to kill tattooed female assassin Oyuki in this noir-ish fourth entry in the popular Lone Wolf and Cub series. After being raped and subsequently desecrating her perfect body with tattoos to detract her foes, Oyuki, an expert with the short sword, seeks vengeance on those who wronged her. As Ogami seeks Oyuki’s father in order to track his hit, Daigoro is separated from his father, encountering Lord Retsudo Yagyu’s vengeful son Gunbei in a compelling sequence. After the resourceful boy survives a burning field, as well as defends himself from his would-be assassin, Ogami comes to the rescue of his son. Ogami later discovers the truth about Oyuki, and allows his sympathetic victim to do battle with the man who wronged her before carrying out his mission. After doing battle with another horde of Yagyu soldiers, Ogami is confronted by none other than Lord Retsudo Yagyu himself. This thrilling battle is notable as the only time the two actually cross swords in the series.

The fifth installment is Babycart In The Land Of Demons (1973).

Babcart In The Land Of Demons
Babycart In The Land Of Demons
Babycart In The Land Of Demons

Five swordsmen hire Ogami, each revealing a portion of his mission as they are defeated in this fifth entry in the Lone Wolf and Cub series. After defeating the swordsmen, Ogami discovers his mission is to save a clan’s honor by killing its royal family. The senile lord of the clan has substituted his daughter (raised as a boy) to be the heir he never had. In addition to murdering the lord, his concubine, and the girl, Ogami must stop a document revealing the deception from reaching the hands of Lord Retsudo Yagyu. Daigoro is again separated from Ogami in a delicate sequence revealing much about the relationship between father and son, and finding young Daigoro learning to maintain honor in the face of injustice. After seeking out the lord and carrying out his mission in a final battle within the castle, father and son become closer than ever as they follow the road to their final battle. Graced with the finest photography of the series, along with excellent action set pieces, Baby Cart in the Land of Demons is noted as possibly the best (as well as the grimmest) of the series.

 Finally we have the final part of the series, White Heaven In Hell (1974).

White Heaven In Hell (1974)
White Heaven In Hell (1974)
White Heaven In Hell
White Heaven In Hell (1974)
White Heaven In Hell (1974)

In this sixth and final film of the series, Ogami faces his ultimate challenge when all remaining members of the enemy Retsudo clan band together for a face-off on a snowy battlefield. I won’t ruin it anymore than that for you…

I can’t express how truly thrilling and fantastic these films are. If you haven’t already seen them, please do so as soon as possible. I strongly urge you to make sure you watch the films in their original Japanese form with English subtitles. Otherwise you will miss out on the sheer impact the Japanese language has on proceedings. Never before has Japanese sounded so threatening and menacing as when spoken by the mighty Ogami Itto.