Film Review: Shogun Assassin (1980)

Also known as: Kozure Ōkami (Japan)
Release Date: November 11th, 1980 (United States)
Directed by: Robert Houston
Written by: Robert Houston, David Weisman
Based on: Lone Wolf and Cub film series
Music by: W. Michael Lewis, Mark Lindsay
Cast: Tomisaburo Wakayama, Kayo Mautso, Akiji Kobayashi

New World Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“They will pay… with rivers of blood!” – Ogami Itto

For fans of Wu-Tang Clan, especially of the Genius/Gza’s Liquid Swords album, will recognize a lot of the dialogue and narration from this film. Also, it appeared in Kill Bill vol. 2 and quite obviously had an influence on the Kill Bill films, as the sword cuts causing geysers of blood to burst out of people was borrowed by Quentin Tarantino in those movies.

Shogun Assassin is actually a re-edit of two of the Lone Wolf and Cub series of films from Japan. This film uses twelve minutes from the first film and then is fleshed out with the majority of the scenes from the second picture. With both those films coming out in 1972, this film does look visually dated for 1980, when it was released.

This film was directed by Robert Houston with creative input from his partner David Weisman. Weisman was the director of 1972’s Ciao! Manhattan and was a protege of Andy Warhol.

Additionally, the film’s star Tomisaburo Wakayama is the brother of Shintaro Katsu, who was known for playing the famous cinematic samurai Zatoichi over the course of twenty-six films.

Needless to say, this film had some interesting origins and connections.

The plot is pretty simple. The main character Ogami Ittō is the Shogunate Decapitator. He fears nothing, not even the shogun. The shogun fears him however and sends ninjas to kill him. The ninjas kill his wife and Ittō cuts them down. He then travels Japan on foot pushing his toddler son around in a carriage. Almost every five minutes they are ambushed by ninjas. Throughout the movie, anyone they encounter could be a ninja in disguise waiting to strike. There is a constant tension throughout the film and it is primarily made up of battles and action sequences.

Shogun Assassin is violent and bad ass. However, I may be in the minority here, as it doesn’t have much of a long lasting effect and after a few encounters, the over the top violence runs its course and isn’t as effective. Blood geysers and limbs flying everywhere is pretty much guaranteed every time our hero crosses another human being in his path.

I like Shogun Assassin but it has never been a film I’ve been in love with. I would, however, like to see the Lone Wolf and Cub movies in their original context in order to compare them to this.

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