Lone Wolf and Cub Blu-ray Review
Bushido, babies, blades and blood
Film Series Review
The classic seventies six-film pulp samurai saga, Lone Wolf and Cub, finally gets to shine.Originating from the popular 70s manga series, the rights to adapting Lone Wolf and Cub were picked up and championed by its lead star, Tomisaburo Wakayama, who went on to star in six movies across a brief two year period, making an icon out of his disheveled, manic-haired (and manic-eyebrowed) strangely big but deceptively fast warrior. The films found popularity in the West in a very contrived fashion, with US distributors cutting and editing the first two movies into a single piece, retitled 'Shogun Assassin', and dubbing it into English. It was violent (albeit in a comic book fashion), action-packed and massively popular, providing inspiration for the likes of Quentin Tarantino. The original films - in particular the first two films in their original form - aren't quite as violent as newcomers might have expected, in particular those familiar with the 'best-of' approach of Shogun Assassin, but, then again, the violence was always comic book in nature (and origin).Nevertheless, the films all boast an engaging energy that makes these tales charmingly enjoyable. The saga involves a highly trained former Shogun executioner taking the long route to getting revenge on those who killed his wife, by touring the countryside with his baby in a weapon-packed pram (Bond would want one of these for his offspring), and taking side-missions for locals in the need of Yojimbo-like mercenary help. The format across the films is pretty familiar, and the colourful villains may be different (ninjas; half-naked female assassins; even half-naked female ninjas) but their arc of slaughtering their way to a brutal confrontation with our anti-hero protagonist is formulaic. Still, there are some nice developments, with the first and penultimate entries proving the strongest, and even the weaker entries benefiting from a fantastical, often surreal bent that leaves them undeniably entertaining.
Picture QualityCriterion bring all six Lone Wolf and Cub movies (as well as the reconstructed fusion of the first two films, Shogun Assassin) to UK shores with a mirror of their US Region A-locked release from last year, on three Region B-locked Blu-rays, sporting 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentations, framed in the movies' original aspect ratio of 2.39:1 widescreen.
Detail has been impressively upgraded from the days of DVD, notwithstanding the 45 year vintage and limitations of the budgets and original productions, affording a rich texture to all of the features, and a fair amount of depth and vitality. Although there's a think swathe of grain pervading each movie, this leaves you safe in the knowledge that they are boasting their authentic, original, natural visuals, and beneath the grain there's plenty of lovely detail that shines through, which the presentations would have almost certainly been robbed of had an excessive amount of DNR been applied.
The 2K remastered images are commendable
These are far from perfect visual presentations, however, and whilst they have been restored, reconstructed and remastered as best as can possibly be expected (Criterion worked wonders to deliver new 2K masters), the source material is still limited. Some of the shots are softer than you'd have ideally wanted, focus can drift, and darker sequences struggle to keep up, with digital defects and variable grain consuming a few shots.
Nevertheless, it's a great job, and for the most part these are wonderfully cleaned-up images, which have clearly had a great deal of time and effort put into their remastering here, and the results are commendable. Although normally unconventional demo material, they certainly deserve a high score for effort alone.
Sound QualityThe series sports LPCM 1.0 mono tracks all-round, with the six main films offering Japanese language and fluid, decent English subtitles, whilst the Shogun Assassin reconstruction has an English Dolby Digital 1.0 track.
Clean and crisp audio as it was intended
Dialogue remains firmly prioritised, rendered clearly across the frontal array, whilst the effects lap up the often exaggerated sword slashes and body blows. The score is perhaps the high point, buzzing along energetically, and giving the array more to do than any other element on offer. There's nothing particularly bombastic here, and the films fluctuate in terms of both style of sound design and delivery, with some light buzzing that intermittently intrudes, and a slight tinniness around the high end, but the overall end result is still clean and crisp audio.
ExtrasCriterion have once again done a great job on the extras front. Whilst the first two discs pack in three films each, barely leaving room for their respective trailers, the meat comes on the third disc.
Headlining this extras disc is the reconstructed full-length Shogun Assassin film, and its corresponding trailer, whilst we get a whopping hour-long Documentary, L'ame d'un Pere, l'ame d'un Sabre, which looks at the popularity of the series, its manga source, the productions, the international fandom, and the core characters, offering up plenty of interviews from an assortment of sources - from the manga writers to the cinematographer.
Criterion have once again done a great job on the extras front
There are a couple of quarter-hour Interviews, with manga novelist and screenwriter Kazuo Koike and martial arts master Sensei Yoshimitsu Katsue, who talks about the Suio-ryu swords and martial arts system. There's also a further quarter-hour Featurette looking at the Director Kenji Misumi.
The disc, and extras package, is rounded off by a classic 1937 half hour Documentary on making Samurai swords, and an excellent Criterion booklet featuring further interviews, articles and artwork.
Blu-ray VerdictThe fantastical, often surreal bent leaves this series undeniably entertaining
Criterion deliver their US Region A-locked Blu-ray package of the Lone Wolf and Club franchise to UK audiences on an identical Region B-locked package that boasts the same impressive video, solid audio and excellent selection of extras. Fans should regard this as the definitive set. Recommended.
You can buy Lone Wolf and Cub on Criterion Blu-ray here
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £49.99
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.