James Reviews Robert Houston’s Shogun Assassin [UK Blu-Ray review]

I guess I wish it was different. But a wish is only a wish.

Looking at the film Shogun Assassin, it’s a wonder that it truly works as a film. If you remember correctly, this is a film taken from the first two films of the Lone Wolf and Cub film series, Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance and Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx. Most of the second film is used in the narrative, with about 12 minutes or so of the first, showing the flashbacks of how the story unfolded. The film is dubbed by English speaking actors and has a new score included. And as I said earlier, it somehow works and works really well.

The film tells the story of Ogami Itto (Tomisaburo Wakayama), a samurai who was loyal to his shogun. As the shogun grew older, more senile and gradually more insane, he has his ninja go to Itto’s house and they kill his wife. Itto and his toddler son, Daigoro (Masahiro Tomikawa) are on the run, killing ninja and other assassins that go after them, with nary a time to rest and relax. We get to see the bond between father and son, and even when there’s little dialogue, Daigoro’s narration tells us the basic story so far.

Dubbing tends to be a hated thing in my eyes and ears, but for some reason with Shogun Assassin, it works rather well. This is a film made 8 years after the first Lone Wolf film, the story stripped of its bare essentials and showcasing the scope and violence of the film in general. It makes for a beautiful array of blood splatter, spraying mists, decapitations, arms, legs and other appendages cut away and a group of killers known as The Masters of Death. Which I find funny that the great UK company, EUREKA (who also house the amazing Masters of Cinema collection) has put out this film with the tender love and care they have been giving their releases these past few years.

Somehow Shogun Assassin has stood the test of time, even in a day and age of films being restored to their original language. The reason it works is that the dubbing is used sparingly and isn’t horrible like in most films. They match the lips and dialogue well because they hired deaf lip readers to match the original Japanese actor’s lips. Daigoro’s narration keeps the story moving forward, a child who is in awe and love of his father and understands that they might not be on this world too long, but he will help his father in any way possible, even if it means using his deadly baby carriage to take a few assassins down.

The fight scenes still look amazing after all these years, and seeing them now, after Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill films, you definitely see the connection between the films. The Bride is essentially the Lone Wolf, in search for revenge and then, ultimately, her own cub. The way the sand looks in the desert is a sight to behold and each showdown seems like a perfect scene to showcase why this film still is an amazing piece of cinema. A samurai film that takes a bit from Akira Kurosawa himself, but ups the violence by looking at some of the more gritty spaghetti westerns. A grindhouse favorite when it was released, the film was essentially banned for many years, so the only way to get it was tape trading, bootlegs and other seedy ways not worth mentioning.

The release from EUREKA is a treat to behold too. We get a high definition transfer that, in my opinion, has never looked better. The sound is crisp, with blades slicing through and blood spraying sounding optimal. We get two fantastic audio commentaries, one with producer David Weisman, illustrator Jim Evans and actor Gibran Evans (the voice of Daigoro) and the other with film scholar Ric Meyers and martial arts expert Steve Watson. We get the original trailer for this film and then we get the Japanese trailers for all six Lone Wolf and Cub films, which is a treat. The coolest feature though is Samuel L. Jackson geeking out about the film and telling the viewers at home why this film means a lot to him and where he first saw it and how excited he is for the new release.

Another great release from EUREKA. If you’ve seen the film before, you’ve never seen it this well. And if you haven’t, you will never think of the term ‘arterial spray’ the same way again. And you will be humming and subsequently buying the soundtrack, done by Mark Lindsay (former singer of Paul Revere and the Raiders) and W. Michael Lewis.

Censored, banned, bootlegged, mistreated, but ultimately unstoppable, this breathtaking high-definition special edition is the release Shogun Assassin fans have been waiting for. Unquestionably the most popular samurai film in the West since the days of Akira Kurosawa, this chanbara classic was lifted from a hugely popular comic book saga and, still wet, transferred glistening to the screen. After being framed for disloyalty to his clan lord, disgraced ronin Itto Ogami (with three-year-old son Daigoro in tow) travels medieval Japan as the most skilled samurai-for-hire bar none. But as the treachery and obstacles in his latest mission quickly pile up, Ogami is forced to handle it the only way he knows how. A re-scored, re-dubbed reassembly of the first two films in the Lone Wolf & Cub series, the result has become an ageless cult sensation in its own right: a crazed thrill-ride in a booby-trapped baby cart, propelled on arterial spray, hurtling gleefully to nowhere.

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