Shogun Assassin


For those of you who know, there’s quite a potent argument against me reviewing Shogun Assassin considering I’ve already review the entirety of the Lone Wolf and Cub saga. To clear things up, the series of six movies predominantly directed by Kenji Misumi ran from 1972 to 1974 and told the story of Ogami Itto, the disgraced Executioner of the Shogunate, who, with his young son, Daigoro, embark on the Demon Road to Hell in order to gain some stabby, slicey revenge on the crazed mastermind who has put him in this situation.
After the final movie, it seemed that the Lone Wolf metaphorically hung up his sword for good with his mission unfinished and pushed his tricked up, utterly lethal baby stroller into the lands of cinematic legend – however, by the time 1980 rolled around, Itto and Daigoro found themselves back on the big screen once again, this time serving a very different master: the Grindhouse circuit.


The Lone Wolf and Cub travel the lands as assassins for hire as they plot their revenge against the Shogun whose paranoid madness resulted in the murder of Itto’s wife. Flashbacks tell us that in a effort to manipulate Itto into a duel to the death, shit became extra personal when the Shogun’s former “Decapitator” showed he still has the goofs after lopping of the noggin of the son of his sworn enemy.
As Itto and Daigoro travel the lands, stay at inns, experience the occasional blood soaked flashback and frequently carve up any of the Shogun’s men who dare to pop up and challenge them, their continuing survival and their impressive bodycount causes the insane ruler to resort to even more extreme measures. Enlisting the female assassin who humbly refers to herself as the “Supreme Ninja” and her cadre of murderous women assassins, yet more attempts are launched at our father and son hero team – but while evil forces amass against them, Lone Wolf and Cub are hired to murder the Shogun’s brother by a rebellious clan who have grown sick of the Shogun’s dangerously erratic ways.
However, before he can butt heads with the Masters Of Death, the three brothers protecting his target, Ogami has to contend with the repeated murder attempts of the Supreme Ninja’s warriors and an all out assault from the Shogun’s elite ninja force.
With his death-dealing father temporarily out of action due to some long-overdue flesh wounds and a hefty bout of exhaustion, can Daigoro nurse his deadly daddy back to health in order to square off against the ludicrously tooled up Masters Of Death and complete their mission?


Seemingly born from the very depths of cheap greed, Shogun Assassin should be an utterly unwatchable experience and yet, in some perfect storm created by a need to make a quick buck, “director” Robert Huston somehow created exploitation gold by giving us not only a stone cold Grindhouse classic, but one of the very best gore fests that ever fell foul of the infamous British video nasty scare of the early 80’s. What Shogun Assassin actually is is the first two Lone Wolf and Cub movies, Sword Of Vengence and Baby Cart At The River Styx, cut together and given a dub track that’s about as subtle as getting a short back and sides at the blade of a wildly swinging katana. On top of that, the editing (which is as merciless as the slicing ability of Ogami himself), carves off the fat with ruthless efficiency and then adds a truly bizarre synth/disco score that means that Shogun Assassin is almost wall to wall gore.
For a start, the filmmakers have most of their work done for them due to the wisdom of picking River Styx – undoubtedly the best of the original series – to be the meat in their exploitation sandwich and using about 12 minutes of footage from Sword Of Vengeance to set up their tale. The result is a movie that moves like a whippet on speed that acts like a greatest hits package of all the best carnage and memorable moments contained within the first two movies and it’s an unabashedly fantastic experience.
Yes, you lose all of the silent, art house, nuance the Kenji Misumi originals invoked, but in return you have a camp juggernaut that plays much like Quentin Tarantino’s plotting for Kill Bill Volume 1 – an action film that’s managed to edit out all the “boring” bits in order to become a lean, mean, Grindhouse machine.


Another pleasant surprise is the dubbing which, while being as typically goofy as fuck, somehow actually enhances the deranged, comic book nature of the re-edit into something of hilarious art form that barely stays on the right sight of offensive. I truly believe that watching foreign movies without subtitles constitutes a legitimate sin (unless you’re watching a 70’s Godzilla film, of course) and yet here it’s nothing less than a fucking virtue as the performances now match the Grand Guignol nature of the copious splatter and the general absurdity of the story in general. In the original movies, the sight of Lone Wolf splitting skulls like melons, killing dozens of men at a time and the frankly ridiculous amount of lethal gadgets hidden within Daigoro’s baby stroller weirdly somehow didn’t seem that weird in the original movies and yet here they reach their full, gonzo potential as the film just keeps feeding us yet more, bloody insanity. Thanks to the heroically unsubtle voice over work, the scene where a hapleless ninja is reduced to a groaning torso by the blades of the female assassins now ends with the Supreme Ninja’s incredulous line: “That was you best man?!” before she disolves into gales of overly hysterical laughter. Elsewhere, when the final Master Of Death has his throat cut and his dying breath escapes with the sound of a whistling winter wind, his lengthy lament now achieves some sort of blackly comic genius as he denounces his death as “ridiculous” before collapsing in a typically squirty heap. However, tying everything together is the ongoing narration from Daigoro who seems to be remembering this now highly simplified, yet still mythic, story from many years ago, yet is somehow still relating it in the voice of a young child. However, the quality of the voice acting not only actually makes Daigoro more of a well rounded character than he ever was in all six of the previous movies, the actor’s flat sounding voice appropriately make the young child sound magnificently desensitized to all the brutality he’s witnessed over the years.


A rare cash-in that somehow equals its source material, Shogun Assassin butchers the original tone completely while keeping the same, showstopping visuals intact and somehow strolls away with one of the finest, cheesiest, loopiest, gore epics of its generation. Slicing away the art to free the awesome, the Lone Wolf and Cub succeeds in their one last stab at immortality in this slice of idiotic genius.


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