As has been well established by the most rigorous of scientific experiments, the best way to learn to do and/or be anything in this world is to watch movies, and to learn from the examples therein. Movies, every one of them, are educational. This is why every movie is not only worth watching, but must be watched, should you wish to grow as a human being. It is not possible to fail to watch the right movie. The only failure lies in failing to watch any movie, and, thus, every movie. So get cracking, people.
Meanwhile, as a new father, I knew I needed advice on how to raise my son, and needing advice, I knew there was only one worthwhile place to look: Movies.
I searched about a bit. I’d already re-watched Eraserhead, just to get warmed up. What would be next?
Aha! I found myself saying. What’s this? Not just one movie about new fatherhood, but an entire series? What luck! I haven’t seen a single one of them. Here, then, is my ticket to true parenting wisdom, the Lone Wolf and Cub series from the early ‘70s, directed (mostly) by Kenji Misumi. And look at that, the first four of these films all came out the same year. They must be very educational indeed.
And so they were. Or at any rate, the first two, Sword of Vengeance and Baby Cart at the River Styx, were, being the only two I’ve so far watched.
Sword tells the story of the disgraced ex-executioner of the shōgun, Ogami Ittō, as he wanders about with his three-year-old son in a baby cart, a broken man following the murder of his wife.
Which murder is shown in flashback. As are a number of other scenes. Leading at times to a certain amount of confusion in viewers who maybe had one too many glasses of whiskey while watching, but anyway who the hell’s counting, and for that matter, why don’t you try getting a baby to go to sleep so you can stay up watching ninjas and ronins slicing each other up and not turn to the warm, spicy embrace of a nice rye or two or, well, the bottle’s almost empty, might as well kill it so I can open this new one.
I’d like to see you try!
Sorry. I’m up late after trying to get a baby to go to sleep. The mind wanders.
Getting back to fatherhood, Ogami uses his kid in various clever ways to outfight his enemies, in which cleverness there’s a very important lesson for all fathers of young children: Most samurai will not try to kill a baby even if he’s racing toward them in a cart, thus distracting them and allowing his father to slice them into little bits. I trust this will be valuable knowledge in the coming months and years, especially once I find myself thrown into the bloodthirsty world of public parks and playgrounds, where I expect swordplay to be commonplace among vengeful, sleep-deprived parents.
Whenever Ogami slices up his enemies, they spout blood like he just lopped off the top of a fire hydrant. Limbs fly. Heads roll. It’s even rather arty, here and there, especially in Baby Cart at the River Styx, which is by far the more artful of these first two in the series. The cinematography is considerably more thoughtful and lovely, plus there’s any number of strange, slow, bordering on surreal scenes of Ogami deep in thought, or else deep in something, it’s hard to say when you can barely keep your eyes open after having gently bounced a baby in your still-aching arms for upwards of 97 hours straight, all the while softly singing a song the words to which grew ever more incoherent the longer you had to make them up, which was forever. Not that I closed mine, mind you. My eyes. I watched every second of these movies, and enjoyed at least 93 percent of them.
Baby Cart also includes any number of deadly female assassins. They even go so far as to kidnap Ogami’s kid and dangle him precariously over a well, making a mockery of motherhood Ogami won’t stand for.
And those three guys in hats, too. You know the ones. I think they show up often in movies of this sort? And that we all know best from Big Trouble in Little China? Those guys. They’re pretty cool. Just not so cool as a ronin and his baby in a cart.
Both of these movies clocked in at a gloriously brisk 80ish minutes, an excellent movie length I wish modern filmmakers would return to now and again. Everything’s double that now. At least. What is it with 160 minutes? It’s the new 120 minutes, and at least 40 minutes too long. Either that or you’re watching some fancy-pants TV show that’s 80 minutes when by all rights it shouldn’t be a second over 50, and you shake your fists and wish to god someone would hire an editor wise to the wisdom of strangling one’s darlings right there in their monkey-bedecked crib, but they don’t, and there you sit, quietly chanting “golden age of television, golden age of television” to yourself while watching yet another hours long slog going nowhere.
Another reason you should be watching weird old movies instead of new dull TV.
Another lesson learned: Babies like short, well-edited movies. Or they would if they watched movies. They don’t yet. But as they sit in their bouncers, facing away from the TV, staring into your eyes with that look that says they know damn well you’re ignoring them, and just wait till you try to calmly suggest they go to sleep for the night, they see, reflected therein (in your eyes) the joy at watching another samurai bite the blood-soaked dust.
Or they would if they were up late watching you watch Sword of Vengeance and Baby Cart at the River Styx. Of course they’re not. That’s the whole point. I’m up late watching them alone, learning that the perils of fatherhood are multifarious, and that, for example, should a strange and obviously insane woman run up to you in park, insist that your baby is hers, and demand to breast feed him, you would be wise to let her, because hey, free food.
To sum up, I recommend both of these movies to all of you, yes, even to you childless monsters, who have no need of babies in carts. You might learn something.