I was considering catching Thank You For Smoking at IFC this morning, but the only screening was at 11:00, and my bed was too darn comfy when I woke up. So, instead, I popped in Criterion’s Blu-ray re-release of Lone Wolf and Cub (one of the many Christmas gifts I’ve been neglecting) and watched movie #3, Baby Cart to Hades, which I somehow skipped over when I discovered the series back in college. Turns out it’s my new favorite installment—mostly because, in terms of its tone and structure, it’s nearly indistinguishable from a Zatoichi film.
It even features my absolute favorite Zatoichi trope: the reluctant rival, an honorable ronin who respects our hero’s prowess and ethics, but is nonetheless forced by fate to cross swords with him. In this case, the relationship between protagonist Ogami Itto and antagonist Kanbei elevates the otherwise routine plot: both loyally served their masters, both became mercenaries after being betrayed and cast out, and their tragic conflict creates a fascinating dialectic on what it means to be a “true samurai” in the face of such blatant cruelty and corruption.
Baby Cart to Hades also features an appearance by Date Saburo, one of my favorite Japanese character actors. If you don’t know who he is, watch any three Zatoichi movies; he’s the guy who shows up as an unnamed minor thug in all of them.
[Originally written February 26, 2017.]