Starting the saga of Lone Wolf and Cub, Sword of Vengeance establishes the general formula of the film series. Having become a ronin, Ogami Itto and his young son Daigoro, walk the path of assassins for hire following the massacre of their clan. In this installment, the story of the treacherous Yagyu betrayal is told and the circumstances which have brought the father-son pair to their current lifestyle. Thrown in is a small thread concerning Itto’s services being rented out by a group of samurai looking to fight off the the attacks of another clan to steal into their own fiefdom. As Itto sets about accomplishing his mission, his flashbacks and events on the road demonstrate his honor and history culminating with a graphic display of skill and technique as Lone Wolf and Cub close in on their quarry.
A fantastic start to the Lone Wolf and Cub film series, the film features solid performances and a real introduction into the world of the series. Partially chanbara and partially exploitation, the film has elements of gore, sleaze, sex, murder, and all with a smidgen of classical samurai budo ideals. It’s very much a chapter in a far reaching story, and the film establishes the characters that will recur throughout the series. Though some may question the lack of finality in this film, it is only part of a truly epic story and absolutely whets the appetite of the viewer.
Wakayama, in my opinion, is among the best film swordsman in history. Due in no part to his long history studying the sword and his continual practice in film, television, and in the dojo, his strokes and swings are both fast and powerful. He carries a true air of danger and it is hard not to see him as anything but a badass. Akihiro Tomikawa makes his first appearance as Daigoro here, a quick look of him very much a child but slowly learning the ways and methods of his father. Having seen the series before but re-watching for the benefit of this review, it is nice to see Daigoro almost carefree, a stark contrast to the way the story develops. There are good supporting performances as well, especially Tomoko Mayama as Osen.
Production value is very good. With multiple scenes shot outdoors and through many different areas, the film feels very wide spanning. Interiors are well set and the time period is well represented. Music is quite memorable as well, with a mix of classical Japanese instruments used as well as modern music instruments. It’s a stoic score and one that would not be out of place among the works of Morricone. Dynamic camera movements and interesting placed shots keep the movie looking fresh and interesting, especially during the action scenes. In the end, the film looks and sounds great.
Overall,the film serves the story’s manga origin well. It’s graphic, bloody, and fantastically entertaining. Considered one of the most highly regarded swordplay films in Japanese cinema,it deserves the fine reputation. For fans of Japanese swordplay films, Sword of Vengeance is one of those must sees, a film that not only exemplifies the genre, but truly demonstrates the long lasting allure of samurai cinema.