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STUDIO:  Animeigo

MSRP: $19.99

RATED:  Unrated

RUNNING TIME: 89 Minutes

SPECIAL FEATURES:

-          Image Gallery

-          Program Notes

-          Trailer

 

 

 

The Pitch

 

You’ll believe a man (‘s blood) can fly.

 

The Humans

 

Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa, Michiyo Yasuda, Eiji Okada, Minoru Oki


Albino Orson Welles loves this shit.


 

The Nutshell

 

The plot is more or less an excuse for limbs and arteries to be removed from their owners, but I’ll give it my best shot: Ogami Itto is contracted to kill a clan’s master, and in order to receive his objectives and his fee, he must kill their five best swordsman, each carrying a piece of his prize and a piece of the puzzle to how he’s meant to assassinate their crazed master. Twists and turns help change his journey along the way and lead him into some rough odds as he must destroy an entire army of men in order to achieve his goal.


Fans were shockingly receptive to the spin-off series Beach Blanket Bloodbath.


 

The Lowdown

 

The predominant feeling one gets from watching Shogun Assassin 4: Five Fistfuls of Gold is one of momentum and pacing, as the film builds in a slow burn to a gloriously violent conclusion without losing its manic, poorly dubbed energy that makes the Shogun Assassin series so delightful as a whole. This series (in this form) is the Ugly American of cinema: it takes something foreign and reconstitutes it to make it digestible to its own American ends, arguably losing what made it culturally specific in the first place but still managing to be compelling in its reconstituted form.   


“I hate water wheels.  Just hate them.  Scourge of the Earth, I say.  We should form a militia and just get rid of the damn- Why are you looking at me like that?  Oh no, there’s one right behind me isn’t there?  *Gulp*”


What’s admirable about the structure of the volume is that it acts as a perpetual motion machine for sending bodies for Itto’s meatgrinder. The way the plot is established, he has to kill each messenger to learn the next piece of the puzzle for the assassination he’s been tabbed to perform. This strikes me as a slightly unwieldy hiring process, as maybe one kill would be proof enough for me.  I understand wanting to see the man’s skills for yourself, but your five best swordsmen as fodder to prove this seems like a faulty business plan. Who’s going to help defend your clan as they theoretically build themselves back up? Answer: not your best swordsmen.  However, this gives Ogami the chance to dramatically and artistically dispatch with some single swordsmen before the challenge really amps up and he has to let the viscera fly as he battles an entire army of soldiers in order to reach his objective. 


The original Japanese Man on Fire was considerably less audience-friendly than the American remake.


 

And the action is really what this series is all about, as the plot is simply a perfunctory set-up to move our characters along in slowly escalating action until it boils over into a beautiful cacophony of swordplay and violence. And while the direction of Kenji Misumi is rock-solid in the early stages, finding interesting and inventive ways to stage each battle between the five swordsmen and the Lone Wolf, he really is able to let loose more and more as the film progresses with more complex battle sequences involving larger and larger groups of fighters. The performances range between scenery chewing and stoic, which is to be expected, but everybody realizes the tenor of the piece and nobody does anything to damage the fragile system they inhabit. 

 

 

The blood doesn’t flow freely until the film’s final act and all of the exposition, but when it finally comes, it is exactly as you would want it. And this is why the slow buildup pays off so garagantuanly, because while the early kills are high on style and low on gore, the kills progressively become more and more violent until there’s just biology-defying geysers of blood flowing from comparatively small wounds every other second. As a visual example, the movie moves from this:


Crouching Dinklage, Hidden Thunder


 

To this:



 

To these:

 









There will be blood indeed. The film works itself into a glorious conclusion and manages to set itself up for further chapters in the story of Ogami Itto without leading us to feel that the current story is incomplete or simply a lead-in to the next adventure, no small feat. The action is beyond competent and is thrilling throughout, the dubbing isn’t poor enough to detract from the viewing experience, and in fact enhances the fever dream-esque qualities of the exchanges between characters. And the only real moment of lag in the picture helps outline and develop the main characters and make their moral code even more explicit, so it isn’t a complete game-killer, even if it feels unnecessary to the story currently being told. There’s very little to complain about here, and if you liked the earlier volumes there’s no way you’re not going to enjoy this. And if you haven’t checked them out yet, this volume provides all the more impetus to get out there and start your festival of flesh ASAP. Recommended. 

 

The Package

 

The cover art with numerous still images from the film is a little lacking, and could’ve been better, although the warning on the back cover completely makes up for it:

 


As for extras, expect little and you’ll be pleasantly unsurprised. There’s some images, a trailer, and some scrollable ‘Program Notes’. None of it is essential, and something as influential as this deserves better, but a little something is better than bare bones, I suppose.

 

6.6 out of 10