Country: Japan / USA
Director: Robert Houston
Starring: Tomisaburo Wakayama, Kayo Matsuo, Minoru Oki, Shogen Nitta, Shin Kishida
Sword & Sorcery… with a vengeance.
Shogun Assassin is a weird piece of cinema product that are actually an edited version of the two first films of a Japanese film series known as the Lone Wolf and Cub series. It uses mostly footage from the second film called Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx, while there’s supposed to only be about 12 minutes used from the very first film Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance.
The films was edited together, dubbed in English and given the new title of Shogun Assassin. The first question you might have is why not just watch the original films instead? Now that’s a good question that I myself can’t answer as I simply have not seen the original films. For me, this has been a “much watch” movie for some years as I always loved the good old VHS cover of it that Vipco had in their catalogue. One thing is for sure though, this edited version sure is a trippy and bloody fun experience.
The film is set in the pre-modern times of Japan. We follow an executioner named Ogami itto and his young son Diagoro through their epic journey seeking revenge upon Shogunate Decapitator, who is responsible for the murder of Ogami’s wife. This journey brings Ogami and his child into plenty of dangerous scenarios, with several highly trained assassins out to get them both.
If Shogun Assassin was put together these days then it would have been called a “fan-edit”. Even without seeing the Lone Wolf and Cub movies, I am sure that the first one is more story driven than the second one, which is probably the reason why this one has much more footage from the latter. This edit creates a simple story that I’m sure has way much more to it than what is presented here, and focus more on showing off the amazingly beautiful shot action sequences, enhanced by its new fantastic soundtrack created by Mark Lindsay and W. Michael Lewis (with some additions from the original soundtrack).
The action scenes and characters does show that this comes from being based on a comic book (or manga if you will). It’s colorful, creative and very bloody! I can only imagine how much more I would have loved it if I saw it at a younger age as I wouldn’t have noticed the faults in the story structure and the way it is pacing along. The final battle between Ogami and the Three Masters of Death has some of the greatest sequences I have seen in action films before, and by that I mean how it is shot and not the actual martial arts (which isn’t that great to be honest).
The acting isn’t that bad either, although the characters do of course suffer from being dubbed in English. Tomisaburo Wakayama (known from the Zatoichi series) plays our hero Ogami / Lone Wolf, a character that in an American remake could only have been played by Charles Bronson – and that tells you all you need to know about this character. The rest of the characters are all fun and fits the film perfectly.
Shogun Assassin is a violent, gory and fun ride that every ten year old’s (that are allowed to watch movies like these) dream. Edits like these are not supposed to work this well and it shows both love to the original material, which I absolutely have to watch soon, and talent in order to pull this off. Shogun Assassin is brilliant and highly enjoyable.