Original series director Kenji Misumi returns for one final film in Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in the Land of Demons (1973). This fifth instalment again portrays an episodic series of events in which Itto Ogami (Tomisaburo Wakayama) and his infant son are hired from their life on the road to commit an assassination, all the while pursued by the villainous Yagyu clan that schemed to have Ogami cut loose as a ronin way back in Sword of Vengeance. I wrote extensively about how the first and second films, both directed by Misumi, left me cold, but that his Baby Cart to Hades finally turned things around. I was disappointed by his being replaced with Buichi Saito for the fourth film just when it seemed like Misumi was getting into his stride, but Baby Cart in the Land of Demons gives him another chance. Would this be another series high point, or a disappointment like the first couple of films?
Some time in the last few years I got a lot less picky about what kind of films I would watch. I think it happened when I started massively ramping up the number of films I watch in general. While I might sink tens of hours into a game and would want that time to be well spent, a film is usually over in a couple of hours, and if I didn’t like it, I’d probably be watching another film later that week – perhaps even later that day. And as I’ve written before, even if I walk away from a film disappointed, there’s probably still something that I can take from it. Wolf Guy (1975) is just such a film. I wanted something ‘special’ for the 100th film I was going to watch in 2018 and after spending some time trying to decide on an unseen classic or an old favourite, I decided I’d procrastinated enough on the decision and just grabbed the most bonkers-looking Arrow Video release off my shelf that I’d yet to watch.
Returning to the Lone Wolf and Cub series evokes similar feeling to Outlaw Gangster VIP. Like that yakuza series of the late ‘60s, Lone Wolf and Cub appeared in theatres every few months with a new film not unlike a new episode of a television show. And much like television before the rise of heavily serialised shows that relied on a slowly advancing, overall arc story that required viewers tune in every week or miss out, Lone Wolf and Cub offers pretty much the same content each time. Baby Cart in Peril (1972), the fourth film in the series, is no different. Even allowing that I left the series alone for several months before picking it up again – much as contemporary moviegoers would have seen it back in ‘72 – I found myself looking at a very familiar movie. Ogami (Tomisaburo Wakayama) is hired as an assassin, there’s a beautiful but deadly woman, the assassination subplot weaves around the ongoing Ogami-Yagyu clash, and there’s a gigantic fight at the end in another of Japan’s mysteriously sandy valley locations where they seem to film all the Super Sentai show battles.
Given my love of Ghost in the Shell in all its many iterations, I would be remiss in not reviewing Ghost in the Shell (2017) – the US remake from director Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman) and starring Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation, Under the Skin) as the Major. Remakes in general are always a tough sell, and while I think there are some good examples on both sides of the equation (The Ring is a strong adaptation of Ring, Yurusurezarumono is a fantastic adaptation of Unforgiven) the general expectation is that any piece of world cinema being adapted for Hollywood is going to lose something in translation. I wanted to approach it with some degree of open-mindedness – perhaps it could be one of those rare examples of a remake that transcends its source material, or if nothing else, perhaps it could stand alone as a decent film even if in failing to surpass the original version it winds up feeling unnecessary (not unlike the recent RoboCop remake).
My experiences with the first two Lone Wolf and Cub movies didn’t fill me with excitement for the remaining four films in Criterion’s box set. I don’t regret watching them, but I was starting to regret owning the collection – all the more reason to be sad Amazon was shuttering its LoveFilm rental service. And yet! Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades (1972) performs the nigh impossible task of course-correcting from the previous films, with drastically improved cinematography and fight scenes, as well as more interesting character interactions. While still by no means a perfect film, it took me by surprise, and reinvigorated my interest in the series.
In this second instalment of the cult Lone Wolf and Cub, Itto Ogami (Tomisaburo Wakayama) and infant son Daigoro take on a Shogunate plot to steal a region’s indigo dye techniques, do battle with a legion of ninjas and plenty of sword maidens, and spray buckets of luminously-red blood. It’s Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx (1972)! When I reviewed the first film in the series, I wrote how deeply disappointed I was; it was not the vital action classic I was imagining. Does the sequel manage to right those wrongs?
Every year in my adopted Yorkshire hometown, Leeds holds the Leeds International Film Festival. This year marks the 31st, and
for the first time for only the second time since catching Howl’s Moving Castle back in 2005, I’m actually paying attention to what’s on offer. While there are plenty of noteworthy films in competition for the first time or being replayed on the festival’s cult or retrospective circuits, this site of course focuses on Japanese cinema, so here’s my breakdown of the Japanese films on offer at #LIFF31.
The only Japanese film in the festival’s official selection – described as “some of the most anticipated films of 2017, alongside outstanding debuts” – is Atsuko Hirayanagi’s first film, Oh Lucy! (2017). Adapted from a 2014 short of the same name, it stars Shinobu Terajima and Josh Hartnett.
With few exceptions, the remaining Japanese films can be found in two marathon sessions – Animation Sunday (Sunday 5th November) and the Manga Movie Marathon (Sunday 12th November).
While companies like Arrow, Criterion, and Eureka’s Master of Cinema are doing a lot to bring lesser known or previously unavailable Japanese films to the west – sometimes being seen for the first time with English language translations – there are still hundreds upon hundreds of films languishing in obscurity. Anime and even Japanese dramas can sometimes count on dedicated fansubbbers to provide unofficial translations (and host illegitimate, downloadable copies) but films rarely get the same treatment. Hard to Find will be an irregular feature on Kino 893 looking at films I’d love to watch, but haven’t yet found a way to.
For the first entry in Hard to Find, let’s talk Shakotan Boogie (1987). I stumbled across this title through my interest in cars – particularly (you guessed it) classic cars from Japan. Automotive enthusiast site Speedhunters is my regular fix for old Skylines and Fairlady Zs. I’d come across the word shakotan before, used to describe a particular style of quite extreme car modification, typically with the car riding low, tall bosozoku-style exhaust pipes, and outlandishly cambered wheels. I have no idea whether the term shakotan came first or if it was popularised by the manga, anime, and film – all titled Shakotan Boogie – but I first heard of the connection in this article by Mike Garrett. I think Garrett actually has some of the timeline wrong here, at least going by Wikipedia; it looks as if the film was in fact an adaptation of an on-going manga – but that’s neither here nor there. We’re here to talk about the Toei movie from 1987.
As a fan of Japanese film it’s probably no surprise I have interests across the rest of Japanese pop culture: I’ve written before about videogames and anime, but until now, avoided the topic of Japanese TV dramas. Once upon a time as a student of Japanese language I was a prolific ‘dorama’ watcher, with old favourites like Ikebukuro West Gate Park (2000), set in my ‘home town’ of Ikebukuro, Tokyo, and Yume wo Kanaeru Zō [The Wish-Granting Elephant] (2008), a bizarre sitcom where the protagonist’s new roommate is the Hindu god Ganesh.
Until recently, though, it was fairly hard to acquire Japanese-language television of any kind through legal means if you lived outside of Japan, and for English language subtitles, you had to rely on legions of dedicated, and often very skilled, fansubbers. Now things have changed: it’s possible to stream dorama from services like Crunchyroll and Netflix. That doesn’t mean it’s all worth watching, but a new, irregular feature here on Kino 893 will cover some of what’s out there – especially as I burn through the various Netflix imports to see if they’ve found anything good!
First up, Million Yen Women (2017), a collaboration between Netflix and TV Tokyo that adapts Shunju Aono’s manga of the same name. Like many dorama, the premise is as simple as it is bizarre: struggling author Michima (RADWIMPS vocalist Yojiro Noda) lived alone until five women abruptly moved in with him, each paying a million yen (around £7000 or $9000) in rent per month. The series picks up six months after they moved in, with the central mystery being who sent the invites that brought them all together, and why.