Lone Wolf And Cub TV Series (Japan 1973)

Rating: ***
Cast: Kinnosuke Yorozuya, Kazutaka Nishikawa

The "Lone Wolf And Cub" TV series is another version of Kazuo Koike's popular manga about a ronin and his son who walk the bloody road of vengeance as assassins for hire. What I find curious about it is that the TV series started while the theatrical versions starring Tomisaburo Wakayama were still being made. It's not a continuation or retelling of the film series, but it does revisit several events from the films with eerie precision.

Being a TV series, the first things you notice are considerably lower production values, lower caliber actors, truly awful wigs, and one of the worst opening credits sequences I've ever seen. The next thing you notice is that Ogami Itto is NOT played by Tomisaburo Wakayama, and seeing Kinnosuke Yorozuya in the role is extremely jarring. His presence isn't as imposing as Wakayama's, but his cold stare and unflinching stoicism are appropriately intense. After a few episodes you really start to warm up to him and flashbacks reveal that he's capable of some impressive emotional depth. I believe he ended up becoming the most popular actor to play the role during the show's numerous incarnations. Daigoro (Kazutaka Nishikawa) is not as cute as his film counterpart, but his performance steadily improves. Of course, the guy who plays Retsudo Yagyu is ridiculous. The films never found a decent actor and the TV series did no better.

While the stories are quite interesting and compelling, the series lacks the excessive sex, violence, and explosive bloodletting that made the films so endearing and enjoyable. In that regard, the TV series is a bit disappointing, but I'm still shocked by how much nudity and rape they do get away with for a show that came out in the early 70's. I wonder if it was prime time or late night viewing? The first several episodes are kind of shaky, but if you can make it through those, you'll likely enjoy the rest.