Lone Wolf and Cub-Sword of Vengeance (1972)

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Released 8-May-2013

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Theatrical Trailer
Gallery-Photo
Notes
Trailer-Lone Wolf and Cub trailers x 3
Trailer-Eastern Eye Trailers x 4
Rating Rated R
Year Of Production 1972
Running Time 79:38
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Kenji Misumi
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring Tomisaburo Wakayama
Fumio Watanabe
Tomoko Mayama
Shigeru Tsuyuguchi
Tomoo Uchida
Taketoshi Naitô
Yoshi Kato
Yoshiko Fujita
Reiko Kasahara
Akihiro Tomikawa
Kauji Sokiyamo
Teruo Matsuyama
Toshiya Wazaki
Case ?
RPI ? Music Hideaki Sakurai


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

     In Edo period Japan master swordsman Ogami Itto (Tomisaburo Wakayama) is the Shogun’s Executioner, coldly dispatching the Shogun’s opponents and enemies. His is a position of privilege and power, but the powerful and influential Yagyu clan led by the shadowy Retsudo Yagyu (Yunosuke Ito) covets his position. On Retsudo’s orders Ogami’s wife is killed and Ogami framed for treason. The Shogun orders Ogami to commit seppuku, ritual suicide, but Ogami disobeys the order, cuts a swath through the Yagyu swordsmen come to kill him, and escapes to travel the roads of Japan, pushing his baby son Daigoro (Akihiro Tomikawa) in a wooden baby cart. Until he can get his revenge against the Yagyus, Ogami becomes the deadly assassin for hire, Lone Wolf and Club.

     The Lone Wolf and Cub films are based upon the manga written by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima, fealty to the manga being assured by the film screenplays being written by Koike himself. The first film in the series, Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance (in Japan the original title was Kozure okami: Ko wa kashi ude kasha tsukamatsuru which translates roughly as Lone Wolf and Cub: Child and Expertise for Hire), is a samurai cult classic that remains as fresh and exhilarating as when it was made 40 years ago. This is due to its timeless themes and the wonderful quirky, experimental filmmaking.

     Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance is a film about samurai duty, obedience, honour and maintaining composure, but it manages to subvert all of the above, frequently showing just how hollow such values can be and the corruption and disloyalty of those in privileged positions of trust. The film’s plot is not told in a straight forward way, but utilises a gradual and fragmented flashback structure to explain Ogami’s background and how he came to be on the road, pushing a baby cart. The film’s sound design is very interesting; on many occasions, such as where heavy rain is falling or even during action sequences, the audio is practically silent. In one action sequence there is no music and no sound of feet, only the sound of the sword slashing into bodies.

     Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance also makes excellent use of colour and locations, and sequences such as the fight on the weir with the running water (around 23:57) look magnificent. The action, in fact, is quite bloody, with copious sprays of blood and multiple examples of severed heads and limbs including legs and arms. In one classic scene, the trunk of a man whose head has been cut off stands wavering for what seems an age, blood spurting up from his neck. There is also quite a bit of female toplessness and the film had the reputation of being something of a video nasty in the early days, but it was ahead of its time and these days most of the effects look quite tame by comparison, and would hardly rate a mention.

     The audacious opening sequence illustrates much of what you need to know about Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance. A very young boy, a toddler, is being led down a long hall in front of sobbing retainers. He is a Daimyo, the current lord of the house, and although so very young he has been ordered to commit seppuku by the Shogun. His retainers would not dream of disobeying the order and Ogami, in his role as the Shogun’s Executioner, has been sent to deliver the killing stroke. This is duty and obedience that has gone mad and the whole scene is lit glaringly, and silent except for the sobs of the retainers, showing that this whole incident is not natural, but a society that is unhinged. Then when Ogami delivers his blow (off camera), and beheads the child, the screen goes a vibrant red.

     Central to the film is the performance of the stocky Tomisaburo Wakayama as Ogami. He could be the “Man with no name” but with a sword not a gun; silent, quick and very deadly with a wide range of weapons he dispatches a multitude of his enemies with precision and economy. He is taciturn and never smiles, but this is not to say that the film is without humour; it isn’t and some of the antics of Daigoro are very amusing without him ever becoming annoying. If Ogami is the steel, Daigoro is the heart of the film, and the relationship between father and son is beautifully realised.

     Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance is a fabulous film, exciting, interesting, colourful and bloody, getting the Lone Wolf and Cub series of six films off in spectacular style. It has not aged a day and no self-respecting fan of Japanese or samurai cinema should be without it.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, the original theatrical ratio, and is 16x9 enhanced.

     This is a print that can seem soft, but it still looks great for a 40 year old film; the film’s original theatrical trailer, included as an extra on this DVD, shows just how good the film print looks in comparison. Colours are deep and natural, the countryside and water beautifully rendered. Blacks are not perfect, but are acceptable, shadow detail much better than I expected. Skin tones, brightness and contract are consistent, expect when deliberately altered for effect such as in the opening sequence.

     Film grain is evident throughout the print, but is pleasing and not excessive. There is slight aliasing and the occasional fleck, but nothing serious.

    English subtitles are easy to read and seemed timely. They are mostly in a yellow font, but when two people were talking the other dialogue is in a white font. I did not notice any spelling or grammatical errors. The credits are in a white font, and on other occasions a sort of “pop up” text appeared in white on the top of the screen to explain certain Japanese terms, such as “ronin” or “Daimyo”.

     A great looking print given the age of the film.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     The audio is Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 at 192 Kbps, which is not surround encoded. The film was released with mono sound, so this represents the original mix.

     Dialogue was clear. The sound effects were quite sharp and, as noted in the review, the use of silences or limited sound effects worked well. The original score by Hideaki Sakurai is evocative and effective, well suiting the film. Perhaps surprisingly, the score for the Lone Wolf and Cub series were the only scores Sakurai wrote. There was obviously no surround or sub-woofer use.

    Lip synchronisation was sometimes very approximate.

     The audio track was perfectly adequate, reflecting the original release.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Original Trailer (2:20)

Stills Gallery

     15 black and white film stills. Silent, use the remote to advance to the next still.

Liner Notes

     15 text pages of notes about the historical, cultural, political and religious background to the Lone Wolf and Cub films. Small black text on a yellow background could make them a bit difficult to read for some. Silent, use the remote to advance to the next text screen.

Lone Wolf and Cub Trailers

     Trailers for Lone Wolf and Cub 4: Baby Cart in Peril (3:08), Lone Wolf and Cub 5; Baby Cart in the Land of Demons (3:02) and Lone Wolf and Cub 6: White Heaven in Hell (2:41).

Eastern Eye Trailers

     Trailers for Hanzo the Razor 1: Sword of Justice (3:16), Ong-Bak (1:57), Versus (2:02) and One Take Only (2:15).

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     There are Region 1 US and Region 2 UK collections of the Lone Wolf and Cub series. The UK set includes the 7 films like our Region 4 release; extras are again trailers and written liner notes. The US release is a 6 disc set, excluding Samurai Assassin, and has no extras listed. There is also a Region A Blu-ray with the six Lone Wolf and Cub films on 2 discs.

     Region 1 and Region 2 Stand-alone editions of Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance are listed on Amazon.com; previous releases in Australia seem no longer to be available. There is no reason to go past the Lone Wolf and Cub: Ultimate Collection from Madman which contains the six original Lone Wolf and Cub films plus Shogun Assassin at an excellent price.

Summary

     Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance, the first film in the six film series, reveals how Ogami Itto, the Shogun’s Executioner, came to be wandering the roads of Japan with his baby son. It is a fabulous film, exhilarating, colourful and bloody, and gets the series off to a spectacular start.

     The video is very good, the audio reasonable. Extras are limited, but nothing much else is available in any other region.

     Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance is included in the Lone Wolf and Cub: Ultimate Collection from Madman which contains the six original Lone Wolf and Cub films plus Shogun Assassin, the 1980 US film that came about when parts of the first two films in the series were edited together, new dialogue written and dubbed into English and a new score added. For a bargain RRP of $39.95 no self-respecting fan of Japanese or samurai cinema should be without this set.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S580, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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