The depiction of bodies in ‘Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril’

Some friends and I recently had ourselves a film night. We had a theme – the use of grotesque bodies and disordered body imagery in film – and watched 3 films that we felt fit within that theme. I have written a short blog on one of the films in relation this film – you can read it below. Soon I will post another blog about the 2 other films we watched – Double Agent 73 starring Chesty Morgan and For Y’ur Height Only starring Weng Weng. I wrote another blog on this theme. You can find it here: http://dangerousmeredith.wordpress.com/2011/01/24/suggestions-please/

 Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril (1972)

Cast and plot synopsis here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lone_Wolf_and_Cub:_Baby_Cart_in_Peril

 The trailer is here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sPky-5gVEqI

An excerpt from the film is here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFNxAmIfpck&feature=related

I felt that the character of Oyuki was very interesting in this film. Oyuki is a beautiful female martial artist who has a novel way of gaining a psychological advantage over her male opponents – she distracts them by fighting topless. As if the sight of a beautiful little pair of breasts are not enough of a distraction for the average red hot blooded male, Oyuki has had frightening demons tattooed on her breasts and back, combining terror with lust. Wandering assassin for hire, Ogami Itto (or Lone Wolf), is hired to take Oyuki out in order to stop her continuing her vendetta on a certain clan. He does so, but not before his investigations lead to his understanding of Oyuki’s motivations and sympathy for her plight.

As well as Oyuki’s tattooed breasts there is other body-based business in this film. A swordsman has his arm amputated early in the film, and another man loses his eye in the last fight scene. There are many more amputations when Itto takes on a whole gang of Ninja who attempt to ambush him in a temple. This scene is as fabulous looking as it is cruel – every single Ninja has at least one (and often more) limbs amputated* and their blood splashes across the darkened interior of the temple, and contrasts starkly with the dark charcoal grey of their costumes, to vivid effect. And this is what gets to me about these films – watching splits me in half. On the one hand I look at the Ninja amputees and their gore and cringe at such nasty violence. But another part of me catches breath over how very beautiful the scarlet of the gushing blood looks against the grey of the sets and clothes. At the beginning of the scene Itto has stated that he and son Daigoro exist at the crossroads to hell (this is a line he repeats in this 7 film series). By the end of the fight scene the set looks like something out of a horror movie and the Ninjas, faceless in their masks and distorted by their lost limbs, look demonic. In order to illustrate and evoke Itto’s nihilistic state of being the filmmakers have decorated this scene with hacked and bleeding bodies.

As with all the films in this series, Itto’s enemies, the Yagyu clan, are shown in hot pursuit of him. In one startling scene a Yagyu clan member is seen disguising himself as another, and then committing hara kiri in his name in order to preserve the honour of the clan (it’s complicated – watch the film). This is a double negation of this man’s body and identity – he loses his face when he disguises himself and then loses his life when he drags a knife across his guts and is beheaded by his second. Other characters throughout the film are referred to as having committed hara kiri for the sake of family honour. There is a form of disembodiment here. It’s as if no one owns their own bodies (or lives). They disconnect from their own sense of physical wellbeing or even existence in order to serve their clan.

And what of Oyuki? She, too, is suffering a sense of disconnect from her own body. She mars its beauty by having herself tattooed with the ugliest and most shocking images possible. During the extraordinarily painful tattooing process she gives the sense of being removed from her own pain – her physical comfort comes second to another agenda. We learn that her campaign of killing and shaming the warriors of the Owari clan comes about through her desire for revenge for being raped by one of their members. On one hand the body of Oyuki is used as a means to titillate the viewer – there are many boob shots and even a shot of her naked body, all sensuously and warmly filmed. And yet Oyuki’s story, and the integrity of her suffering as the victim of rape, is also allowed to emerge and take its place in equal terms alongside the erotic depiction of her body. Oyuki’s sexuality has been violated and, through tattooing, her converting her naked body into an instrument of visual assault, as opposed to being a body available for love making, is a manifestation of her rage at her forced disconnection from her sexuality, dignity, and humanity. Her death, and the grief felt by her father, are very moving and drive home the tragedy of Oyuki’s short and unhappy life.

This film is an extraordinary mix of elements. Grotesque, schlocky acts of sex and violence are filmed utilizing exquisite cinematography, lighting, art direction and direction. Brutality is choreographed, staged and executed with dance like dynamics. Actors perform outlandish deeds and strange roles with complete commitment and emotional depth. They do not betray for one second any sense of self conciousness or ironic posturing. (As a contrast, consider the stilted and self conscious performance styles in Kill Bill which purport to be referencing the performances of Asian actors in Hong Kong and Japanese martial arts films.) Bodies are mutilated, slashed and chopped, and naked bodies are groped, rubbed and pawed The effect is partly a direct appeal to the viewer’s cruder instincts. But, thanks to the extraordinary artistry with which these films are made, the use of bodies can also be used to communicate more complex ideas and emotions.

*Tee hee: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2eMkth8FWno

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8 Responses to The depiction of bodies in ‘Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril’

  1. Norbert says:

    Sounds like a strange and interesting film… The ‘*Tee hee’ link is great!

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    • I just couldn’t resist linking into the black knight. “Tis but a scratch!”

      Seriously the Lone Wolf and Cub movies are well worth a look. You are into manga and anime aren’t you? Have you ever come across the manga the movies are based on?

      Like

      • Norbert says:

        No I haven’t heard about the manga; must be an older one when the movie was released in 1972. I’m reading almost only contemporary manga and only a few classics (like Tezuka Osamu).

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  2. Pingback: Body Weirdness in film: Chesty Morgan and Weng Weng | Dangerous Meredith

  3. Though I haven’t seen this film, it still seems obvious to me that there’s some really great insight here; at least, there’s some things I doubt I would have thought deeply enough about in or out of context of the story line. Thanks for the perspective.

    I’m wondering now if this endeavour might benefit from the documentary Ying Yang: Gender in Chinese Cinema (assuming you haven’t seen it). I saw this maybe 15 years ago when it was screened on SBS, and while it specifically deals with Chinese/Hong Kong cinema, there’s some fascinating insight on the depiction of gender in cinema and the way roles are often interchangable (men playing women and vice versa, including Brigitte Lin’s roles in the Swordsman films). If you’re interested and can’t source a copy, I have it on VHS still, which I’d be happy to get to you some way.

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    • wow! I would love to see that documentary. I have actually written a couple of blogs on Swordsman 2 on this theme – one on grotesque bodies and another on cross dressing. what is it about brigitte lin? she was either dressing up as a bloke or having sex with siamese twins (bride with white hair).

      thanks for the nice comments.

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  4. Well, I remember Tsui Hark commenting in the doco about having a fascination with Brigitte Lin specifically, and I think his words were “I love to play with her form”. Then there was Leslie Cheung (RIP), commenting (I think) owing to his role in Farewell My Concubine, saying “If you ask me, I don’t think she’s believable as a man at all!”. It looks at the fairly long tradition of gender swapping, though, and the narrator/director’s (Stanley Kwan) mother even admits to having a crush on an actress from the 60’s, who I believe only played male roles.

    I don’t have the means to transfer the VHS to a digital format or anything, but if you have access to a video player and are comfortable with me posting it out to an address, I can do that early next week. Otherwise, there seems to be a torrent of it here: http://www.videolala.com/watch-yang-yin-gender-in-chinese-cinema-1996

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  5. Pingback: Naked Lady Yakuza Fighting | Dangerous Meredith

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