Manga plays a significant role in Japanese culture, which is difficult for outsiders to fully grasp. Several series have managed to embed themselves into the public consciousness, along with TV spinoffs and film franchises (not to mention an eclectic array of merchandise). Lone Wolf and Cub is one of the most famous. The first two films were re-cut for the American market as Shogun Assassin and garnered a cult following; largely due to its bloody body count.

One of the issues with previous releases has been video quality. At times, it was virtually unwatchable. Criterion are releasing the six films together in one package, all with new 2K restorations. It set also includes a high definition presentation of Shogun Assassin. As someone who watched the films on VHS and then early DVD releases, it so good to see the picture quality now doing justice to the story.

Ogami Ittō (Tomisaburô Wakayama) serves as the Shogun’s executioner, responsible for enforcing his will. One day he returns home to find his wife brutally murdered with just his young son Daigorō surviving. Despite an attempt to cover it up, he discovers that it was a power move by Yagyū Retsudō (Tokio Oki), leader of the Ura-Yagyū clan. Ogami is set-up, stripped of his title and condemned as a traitor. They wander the country as Lone Wolf and Cub; assassins for hire. Embarking on their Road to Hell of vengeance.

The Collector’s Set is an absolute joy to watch. Ogami Ittō gets distracted on his quest by mini assignments and assassinations along the way. However, the overarching story keeps building film by film. They are full of imaginative and beautifully choreographed action scene. Whilst there’s body parts aplenty and it is bloody, it now feels more cartoonish than brutal. Lone Wolf and Cub is a beautifully restored relentless and thrilling series of top-notch Japanese rōnin films.

Films:

Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance
Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx
Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades
Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril
Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in the Land of Demons
Lone Wolf and Cub: White Heaven in Hell

Disc Features:

  • New 2K digital restorations of all six films, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks on the Blu-rays
  • High-definition presentation of Shogun Assassin, a 1980 English-dubbed reedit of the first two Lone Wolf and Cub films
  • New interview with Kazuo Koike, writer of the Lone Wolf and Cub manga series and screenwriter on five of the films
  • Lame d’un père, l’âme d’un sabre, a 2005 documentary about the making of the series
  • New interview in which Sensei Yoshimitsu Katsuse discusses and demonstrates the real Suio-ryu sword techniques that inspired the ones depicted in the manga and films
  • New interview with biographer Kazuma Nozawa about Kenji Misumi, director of four of the six films
  • Silent documentary from 1939 about the making of samurai swords, with an optional new ambient score by Ryan Francis
  • Trailers
  • New English subtitle translations
  • Plus: A booklet featuring an essay and film synopses by Japanese pop-culture writer Patrick Macias

The Lone Wolf and Cub Collection is released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment as part of the Criterion Collection on Monday.