We constantly see news about comic creators getting screwed over and unacknowledged in movie deals. There is no worry about that in Lone Wolf and Cub. In what should have been a template for all comic-to-film adaptations to come, comic author Koike Kazuo was hired to write the screenplays for the films that would transform his wandering ronin and son into internationally known characters.
If you have never seen Lone Wolf and Cub, you might be surprised by just how … cartoony it is. Even though Koike’s comic takes a more serious, dour approach, the film version is pure over-the-top Cinematic Samurai. Sword never touches flesh without a garden hose of blood shooting forth—more blood than a human body can conceivably hold. Attackers leap as if gravity can’t hold them. Aerodynamic principle can’t interfere with a well flung sword. A wooden baby cart transforms into a mechanized death machine. The only physics this film series obeys is the Rule of Cool.
Even more strange then, in the mix of this cacophony of chaos, that the actor playing the Lone Wolf himself is one of Japan’s most accomplished swordsmen actors. Tubby and middle-aged, Wakayama Tomisaburo can wield a katana like few since the age of the samurai. It’s amazing to see a guy that looks not unlike a surly, drunken uncle you are embarrassed to be seen with whipping around a yard of heavy, folded steel like he is fly fishing. Sure, Wakayama may not have the natural charm and charisma of his brother Katsu Shintaro (also known as the blind swordsman Zatoichi), but if the two of them ever threw down there is no doubt who would be sliced into pieces and served on the dinner table.
There are six Lone Wolf and Cub films in the series, which barely touches the 28 volumes of the comic. But it is a testament to Wakayama that, no matter how popular the series remains, they have never been remade. They got it right the first time.
by Zack Davisson