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RUNNING TIME: 85 minutes
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Ogami Itto and his son wage a war against the Shogun that murdered Itto’s wife.
Tomisaburo Wakayama, Kayo Matsuo and a host of voice actors on the re-dub effort.
Shogun Assassin is part of the lengthy repackaging of the Lone Wolf and Cub film series. The film has been chopped, edited, redone and shipped out in so many forms that it has become The Evil Dead for AnimEigo. A cash cow of cult nerd goodness that will never die as long as Samurai Cinema keeps geeks happy. A few years ago, I took part with a few other reviewers in tackling the individual edits for the Lone Wolf and Cub films. I’d link them all, but I don’t want it to get messed up in the site move. Those international cuts were fun and they helped to cut away at some of the lengthy dialogue of the original Japanese films. However, those original films can be had quite affordably from AnimEigo. Now where was I? Oh yes, today’s coverage of the original Anglo friendly piecemeal blend of the first two Lone Wolf and Cub movies entitled Shogun Assassin.
Ogami Itto was the Shogun’s High Executioner. One day, Ogami decides to call the Shogun on his crap and quits. Ogami retires to his private estate where he tries to bond with his wife and their new son. The little Daigoro is a playful child, but Ogami fears for his future. The fear is soon proven to be true, as the Shogun dispatches three ninjas to the estate. Before Ogami can stop the ninjas, his wife is cut down. Taking his son aside, he offers the little Daigoro a choice. Choose the ball and your father will send you to your mother in the Great Beyond. Choice the sword and you will join your father in his war against the Shogun.
Shogun Assassin takes the best elements of the first two Lone Wolf and Cub movies and turns it into a duck-press masterpiece. There’s been a small cult sensation generated by this film that can be felt everywhere from the world of cinema to animation to the RZA dropping mad beats on your ass with Liquid Swords. The first half of Shogun Assassin sets up the duo’s origin and their eventual trip to a neighboring town. A group of thugs and erstwhile swordsmen have taken hold of the place. Ogami tries to place nice and befriend a local prostitute, but shit goes down hard. So, the Baby Cart pops out a few surprises and people get cut up.
When Ogami defeats the local thugs, he leaves town with the friendly whore following him. He sends her on her way, by destroying the bridge that leads out of town. Venturing into new lands, Ogami is attacked by various killer women. They have frisbee bladed hats or they’re just batshit crazy ninjas. Basically, it turns into a estrogen powered game of Shinobi, as Ogami and Daigoro have to hack their way out of their latest adventure. When the Hidari brothers are introduced, that’s when we hit the first mark of a rushed adaptation. They appear in the story faster than Gideon did in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. There’s no build or explanation for why they’re such badasses and if you haven’t seen the original movies…you’ll be lost.
Shogun Assassin does what it was asked to do with a recut. By trimming the careful meditation and dramatic sequences from the film, you have a work that can entice American audiences. A ton of plot points are compromised to create a leaner action film, but it doesn’t hurt the casual viewer’s perception. It’s just that the short run-time coupled with the loss of backstory turns this into another mindless romp of violent excess. That’s why I love and hate reviewing films from a beloved franchise.
former teen star Robert Houston tackled this project, no one in America really cared. There had been few strong Asian action cinema breakthroughs that had any long-lasting impacted. For every Five Fingers of Death, there was an American backed Enter the Dragon that eclipsed it. Going to Toho and asking for extensive support to recut their films took a lot of guts. Especially when you had difficult markets to break the film into for Western audiences. While Americans meet most foreign fare with ambivalence, the British market gutted this movie. Originally dubbed a Video Nasty, it was destroyed before finally being banned from exhibition. The ban was later lifted, which only helped to garner a modicum of attention in England.
What also sucks is that Ogami Itto loses his humanity in this recut. In the original films, he’s a flawed man that’s desperately trying to redeem himself for his past crimes as High Executioner. In Shogun Assassin, Ogami is an Eastern Superman with no signs of ever slowing down. Itto hacks and hacks and hacks his away through a variety of carefully armed freaks. There’s something to be said for the young voice actor doing the dub for Daigoro. He’s grown up now and he took part in one of the disc’s commentary tracks. The kid was cast because his dad designed the film’s poster and related press goodies. But, his tone is weird and disjointed. It’s almost like the kiddie voice that South Park had used in the past for Ike.
Shogun Assassin should be required viewing for fourteen year old that wants to learn about cinema. Why? Well, because this is the kind of movie that you need to get out of your system at a young age. So many would-be film fans end and begin within their comfort zones. While it is nice to start viewing films of foreign origin, this picture should be seen as educational training wheels. Learn the dynamic of Japanese period pieces, but with the sweet coating of blood violence to wash it down. Learn to appreciate odd acting tics and movements of the Eastern world. Yet, I still have to tack on a word of warning. This is a great movie, but it’s light Samurai Cinema fare covered in a bucket of fake blood. Branch out from this starting line, young Gwai Lo.
encoded transfer marks a wonderful restoration to a cult classic. However, it is squashed onto a BD-25 disc that’s single layered. While I don’t expect every small genre house to put double-layer discs loaded with goodies, I do expect to see the best transfers possible. While the 1080p transfer on this disc looks better than DVD, I did notice a smidge of digital noise during the darker sequences. The mono audio is a weird mix that I can’t quite call lossless. The resulting work is a great first foray into the Blu-Ray market for AnimEigo, however I’ll be expecting more on future releases.
Blu-Ray sports the most features I’ve ever seen for Shogun Assassin in any home video format. You get the uncut film presented in glorious 1080p with a matching mono audio track. But, there’s a new video interview with Samuel L. Jackson to freshen things up. I don’t care that SLJ didn’t have shit to do with the film, Samuel L. Jackson makes anything better. Well, he made everything better outside of The Spirit. The two commentary tracks were fun, but they feel like a repackage of previously noted material. The restoration gallery is a fun look at the effort to restore the film to a pristine presentation.