Lone Wolf and Cub (Criterion Collection) Blu-ray review

Stripped of his role as official executioner after being falsely accused of wishing for the Shogun's death, Ogami Itto (Tomisaburo Wakayama) opts to spend the rest of his life wandering Japan as an assassin for hire, accompanied by his young son Daigoro (Tomikawa Akihiro) in a tooled-up baby cart.

Based on the legendary manga series by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima of the same name, the Lone Wolf and Cub series is a must-see for fans of Japanese swordplay action. Across the course of six films (Sword of Vengeance, Baby Cart at the River Styx, Baby Cart to Hades, Baby Cart in Peril, Baby Cart in the Land of Demons and White Heaven in Hell) made between 1972 and 1974, Itto cements his position as one of cinema's biggest bad-asses, leaving countless severed limbs and decapitated heads wherever he goes (always accompanied by gushing fountains of bright-red blood).

Endlessly thrilling and gloriously violent, the Lone Wolf and Cub films continue to influence filmmakers around the world (Road to Perdition was essentially Itto and Daigoro in gangster guise). Indeed, our only complaint is that the films never provide an ending for the heroes, leaving Itto still pushing his son's cart around the country, his vendetta against the clan responsible for his fall from grace still unresolved.

Picture: Derived from recent 2K restorations, the six films arrive on Blu-ray in pretty good shape. While there are a few source-related anomalies here and there (either the focus puller went missing during the shooting of several sequences in Baby Cart in Peril or substitute material of a lesser quality was used in restoration), the 2.40:1 1080p encodes have been cleaned up nicely, while still retaining a healthily film-like appearance. Colours are also well-resolved, black levels are stable and intricate details are abundant in close-up shots (to the detriment of the make-up).
Picture rating: 4/5

Audio: The six films all come with LPCM 1.0 mono soundtracks. While there are limits to what they can do, the Japanese dialogue sounds accurate and they really come into their own with the funky scores.
Audio rating: 3.5/5

Extras: Each film is accompanied by its trailer, while a bonus disc houses a French documentary, three interviews and a 1939 silent film about the making of a traditional Samurai sword. The real star, however, is the restored version of Shogun Assassin, the 1980 US film that was edited together from the first two Lone Wolf… movies and faced the wrath of UK censors back in the day.
Extras rating: 3.5/5

We say: This handsome HD boxset serves the legendary Japanese swordplay series extremely well.  

Lone Wolf and Cub, Criterion Collection, Region B BD, £88