Ogami Itto (Tomisaburo Wakayama) used to be a high ranking executioner until his fall from grace, but now he travels the country pushing his son in his baby cart, seemingly attracting death. Today, he wants to cross a river, but the ferry master refuses to let him take the cart aboard so he ties it to the stern and lets his son float along behind the boat. While they make their way across the water, one of the passengers, a prostitute accompanied by her grumpy pimp, drops her bag of belongings in the river and Ogami's son catches them as they pass by him. They are returned at the end of the journey, but Ogami doesn't realise he will see the prostitute again, under more dangerous circumstances...
Baby Cart to Hades, as it was known in North America (as well as Lightning Swords of Death Part III among other titles, its original title being Kozure Ôkami: Shinikazeni mukau ubaguruma) was the third in the Baby Cart, or Lone Wolf and Cub series and one of more celebrated Japanese Samurai movies to make a mark in the West outside of the work of Akira Kurosawa. These films were distinctive and easy to spot due to the unusual double act at their centre, the father and young son who each meet potential violent death with a straight faced stoicism, as if they know they will survive no matter what. And, indeed, that's what they do.
The series was based on Kazuo Koike's long running manga comic book, and he wrote the script for this instalment as well. Another example of what is so notable about this film is its pacing, that is, slow to the point that you almost lose interest only for the excitement levels to raise dramatically when the action starts. But that action is frequently over frustratingly quickly, a swift stroke of the blade and it's all over, with Ogami the victor. To open with, we see him cut down a few bamboo trees that would-be assassins were hiding in, and then make no bones about despatching them forthwith.
Yet that's just the prologue, as the story appears to start when a group of wandering Samurai attempt to rape a noblewoman and her daughter who they meet on the road. They are stopped by the women's guard, who in turn is killed by a more powerful warrior (Go Kato) who was travelling the same journey. He then attempts to cover up the crime by killing the women and one of the rapists to make it look as if the survivors did all they could to stop tragedy happening. But, whoops, they have been observed by Ogami, and the warrior and he nearly fight each other, only for Ogami to turn away as he wishes the warrior to live on.
This episode could easily have been left out, but would have made a short film all the shorter, so the plot begins anew with the prostitute from the beginning (remember her?) killing her pimp when he attacks her in a hostel and seeking the protection of Ogami, a situation which he accepts. And he also accepts the beating the prostitute would have recieved from her madam and her henchmen, leading the madam, Tori (Yuko Hamada) to propose that Ogami carry out a revenge murder for her. None of those in positions of power are particularly savoury characters, so Ogami makes it his unspoken mission to kill as many as possible, complete with a dig at Spaghetti Westerns when he slays a gunslinger, and more impressively, defeats a whole army single handed for the grand finale. If you can adjust to the brooding atmosphere and don't mind the paucity of swordplay during the first hour, then you'll be rewarded by this film's quiet power and long-awaited spectacle. Music by Hiroshi Kamayatsu and Hideaki Sakurai.