I wanted to get into the right frame of mind for the premiere of Samurai Jack later tonight, so I popped in Lone Wolf and Cub: White Heaven in Hell, the sixth and final entry in Tomisaburo Wakayama’s adaptation of Kazuo Koike’s manga series. I’d actually skipped this one, as well, mostly because I’d read it was kind of silly compared to the others. These days, though, I like to believe that I’m mature enough to occasionally indulge in a bit of silliness.
The film certainly doesn’t disappoint in that regard: after defeating a series of sadistic, ambiguously supernatural foes, Ogami Itto finally faces down his recurring arch-nemesis, the shadow lord Yagyu Retsudo. And Yagyu, usually portrayed as a consummate schemer and mastermind, is so utterly done with the assassin’s tenacity that, when he corners him atop a snowy mountain, he brings along about a hundred ninja. Equipped with skis and tobaggans. With Yagyu joining the fray in an oversized, horseless sleigh, chucking explosives, looking for all the world like a Tokugawa-era Immortan Joe.
Of course, the Lone Wolf survives against all odds, and Yagyu flees to fight another day. At first, I was disappointed that their overarching conflict wasn’t fully resolved (especially considering it was usually treated as little more than a subplot, despite its significance to the hero’s backstory), but on reflection, the villain’s survival actually makes for a far more fitting conclusion. When Yagyu flees, he is alone, his honor forever tarnished. The cruel patriarch used his own children as expendable soldiers in his vendetta, leaving him without an heir, legitimate or otherwise—he’ll become a laughingstock among the feudal lords that once feared his name, because that name no longer has a future. Ogami, meanwhile, is still a penniless ronin, facing an even harder road now that the shogunate has declared him a fugitive… and yet, he still has his young son Daigoro, the one thing in the world he cherishes more than even honor and revenge.
In other words, the antagonist loses everything he’s ever valued at the hands of our protagonist, and he has to live with the shame. Sounds like a victory to me.
[Originally written March 11, 2017.]