The plot: Shogunnates (clans) rule 17th century Japan. The ones in power persecute, and destroy the ones without power. Ogami Itto (Tomisaburo Wakayama) has a very prestigious position in the ruling clan....head executioner. Like the dentist, no one is ever happy to make his acquaintance, but the honor of the position and the reverence it commands, floats his boat nicely. He beheads with dignity, however. Itto has even constructed a shrine next to his home where he prays for the souls of those he has offed. Itto has a beautiful wife and a baby boy, so he doesn't have time for friends anyway. Then KABOOM! Because Itto's position holds so much influence, a rival frames him for treason and murders Itto's wife. Ordered to commit seppuko, Itto is suspicious. He figures out that he has been framed and disobeys the order, instead, using the seppuko sword to slice his way to freedom. Now, armed with a sword, and other really sharp things that cause blood to spurt and limbs to fly, Itto begins a journey as an assassin for hire. Oh yes, not only is he armed to the max...he is also toting around his baby boy.
The shogunnate fears Itto. He has spit in the face of order, tradition, and collectivism. Itto informed the shogunnate, just before he cut up a few dozen of them, that he would assume the role of a demon and dedicate the rest of his existence to revenge. As he strolls through the countryside of Japan, aggression follows. Either he is recognized as the lone wolf he has become (in a society with no patience for individualism) or is beset by highwaymen...which he purees. In one village he travels to, Itto assumes the role of the American cowboy. The town is ruled by social outcasts and criminals, but in a final showdown, Itto cuts them into little pieces while defending an unfortunate but beautiful prostitute.
Itto is chivalrous, strong, individualistic, and heroic. He goes it alone and swears vengeance on the collectivists that rule society. In America, we used to consider this sort a hero....and today, a few of us still do. However politically incorrect this film might be today, I found it inspirational. Of course there are sequels to "Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance," and also a hope that society once again smiles on Itto and considers him noble and good.