Today I watched Kenji Misumi’s Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance (1972)
Perhaps more so than any previous or contemporary comic book movie, the Lone Wolf and Cub series really captures the episodic feel of traditional pulp comic storytelling. The series tells the story of Itto Ogami, a mighty samurai who was once the Shogun’s chosen executioner. But now his family has been betrayed by the Yagyu clan who want his powerful position, and they succeed at incriminating him and killing his wife. So now Itto wanders the countryside with his toddler son, hiring himself out as an assassin as he slowly works towards avenging his family and destroying the Yagyu.
There are a lot of elements that make this particular entry feel very pulpy and comic book like, chief of which is probably the pacing. The film actually tells two stories, the aforementioned origin of Itto and Daigoro, his son, but then there is also a contract he undertakes later in the film. The film’s stories are thus quite compressed in the way traditional comics narratives were, which is further amplified by the borderline surreal audio-visual stylings.
While this film is certainly violent in it’s content, it is the kinetic and focused delivery that really gives it a kinetic punch. In many scenes the film excises all unnecessary sound yet goes for very evocative imagery and angles, directly mimicking the lavish art and select use of onomatopoeia one would see on the comic page. This also has the added effect of framing the ample violence in a way that elevates it’s impact, highlighting the over the top arterial spray which would go on to influence every corner of Japanese cinema. If you dig that kind of wild, insane comic violence, this is an absolute must see as it is both wildly influential and just damn good in it’s own right. 5/5