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Cover of the UK DVD
|Directed by||Robert Houston|
|Produced by||Shintaro Katsu
|Written by||Kazuo Koike
|Music by||Hideaki Sakurai|
|Edited by||Lee Percy
|Running time||86 minutes|
Shogun Assassin, known in Japan as Kozure Ōkami (子連れ狼?), is a jidaigeki film made for the British and American markets and released in 1980. In 2006 it was restored and re-released on DVD in North America by AnimEigo.
Shogun Assassin was edited and compiled from the first two films in the Lone Wolf and Cub series, using 12 minutes of the first film, Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance (Kozure Ōkami: Kowokashi udekashi tsukamatsuru or Wolf with Child in Tow: Child and Expertise for Rent), and most of Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx (Kozure Ōkami: Sanzu no kawa no ubaguruma or Wolf with Child in Tow: Perambulator of the River of Sanzu). Both were originally released in 1972. There were six films in all in the series. These in turn were based on the long-running 1970s manga series, Lone Wolf and Cub, created by the writer Kazuo Koike and the artist Goseki Kojima.
The project was directed by Robert Houston and his partner David Weisman, a protégé of Andy Warhol and director of Ciao! Manhattan (1972). A fan of the original Kozure Ōkami films, Weisman had obtained the rights for $50,000 from the American office of Toho Studios. The film was distributed by Roger Corman's New World Pictures to the grindhouse movie circuit in the United States, and then later as a video cassette from MCA/Universal Home Video. When released in the United Kingdom by the Vipco video tape label in 1983, Shogun Assassin's extreme violence almost caused it to be banned by the Home Office. Vipco played this for publicity in the cover art of their 2000 release on DVD, which was stamped "Banned since 1983!"
Shogun Assassin was dubbed into English whereas the originals are in Japanese. The film, being compiled from separate stories, uses a much-simplified version of the situation. For instance, any mention of clan war is gone and the opponent Retsudo is simply called "The Shogun."
The filmmakers hired deaf lip readers to help compose dialogue to match the lip movements of the original Japanese actors, and filled in the narrative gaps by adding voice-over narration by Daigoro, performed by Gibran Evans, the 7-year-old son of Shogun Assassin's poster illustrator, Jim Evans. American actress Sandra Bernhard and director (and former radio actor) Lamont Johnson provided voices in the dubbed edition.
As the opening credits roll, an abbreviated version of Itto Ogami's past as Shogunate Decapitator and his wife's murder by ninja are seen, with Daigoro providing the narration.
Two hooded samurai attack Itto Ogami pushing a cart with Daigoro inside. Ogami fends off the attack of the first, breaking his sword with Ogami's Doutanuki blade and splitting his head. The second attacker jumps over the first, with the first still clasping Ogami's blade. Ogami pulls off a handrail from the cart and a blade comes out, transforming it into a spear. Ogami then uses this to impale the second attacker. As the first was dying, he reminds Ogami that they are marked for death.
As Ogami and Daigoro sit by a roadside fire having their evening meal, Ogami remembers how he offered the in fact Daigoro the life-death choice: either Ogami's sword (which would mean that Daigoro would join him on his mission of vengeance against his wife's murderers) or Daigoro's ball (which would mean that Ogami would kill his son so that he could be with his mother in heaven). Daigoro crawls over to the sword and Ogami embraces him; from now on, they will be "Assassin with Son". The next day, the Shogun's officials bring Ogami the Shogun's orders: either swear eternal loyalty or commit suicide with Daigoro. Ogami instead chooses to carve a bloody path to freedom with Daigoro, only to find his path blocked by the evil Shogun, his son Kurando and other swordsmen. The Shogun challenges Ogami to fight Kurando in a duel; if Ogami wins, he wins his freedom. Ogami accepts, and he faces Kurando on a vast plain with the Shogun watching and Daigoro strapped to his back. Kurando thinks he has the strategic advantage with the sun at his back, but a mirror tied to Daigoro's forehead reflects the light into Kurando's eyes, giving Ogami the chance to slice his head off.
Ogami and Daigoro journey on, never stopping in one place for very long as the Shogun's ninja are always following them. Even a bathhouse in a roadside inn may not be safe, and Ogami keeps his guard up at all times. As they wander, Daigoro recalls how Lord Bizen (the Shogun's other son) and his men came after Ogami and Daigoro with orders to kill Daigoro. Even though Bizen's men are wearing chain mail beneath their robes, Ogami's skill and blade are too powerful. Ogami lures Bizen into the middle of a stream and uses an underwater sword-slash technique to kill him as the Shogun watches. Ogami swears that he will destroy the Shogun and all his ninja.
The Supreme Female Ninja receives the Shogun's orders for Ogami and Daigoro's death from Lord Kurogawa, who doesn't think that her group is up to the task. The Supreme Female Ninja proves otherwise by having Kurogawa's strongest ninja Junai slaughtered by her ninja women in a test of skill.
Ogami and Daigoro meet secretly with a client to receive details about their latest assassination job. The target is Lord Kiru, the Shogun's brother, and he is being escorted by a three-brother team known as The Masters of Death.
During Ogami and Daigoro's journey to find Lord Kiru, they are attacked several times by The Supreme Female Ninja's women, each time cutting them down. Ogami finally faces The Supreme Female Ninja herself, who uses a weighted net with fishhooks, but Ogami cuts himself free and the fight ends in a draw as she flees.
Ogami and Daigoro keep on going, but now come face to face with Lord Kurogawa's entire ninja force. Pushing Daigoro in his cart to safety, Ogami uses the spear blades in the cart's handrails to attack. All but two of the ninja are cut down, but Ogami is wounded; he manages to push Daigoro in his cart to the safety of a deserted hut before collapsing from loss of blood. Daiogo goes in search of water for his father, bringing it back in his mouth, and takes some food offerings from a roadside shrine, leaving his jacket in honorable exchange.
The Supreme Female Ninja meets with Lord Kurogawa to report her failure, but Lord Kurogawa has another plan: to strike at Ogami through Daigoro.
Later that night, the sound of a woman singing lures Daigoro outside the hut. Waking up to find Daigoro gone, Ogami manages to go outside and some distance from the hut, where he finds Daigoro a prisoner of Lord Kurogawa, his remaining two men and The Supreme Female Ninja. Daigoro is tied up and suspended over an extremely deep well. Kurogawa demands Ogami's surrender or he will drop Daigoro down the well to drown. Ogamni refuses and Daigoro shows his understanding and readiness to die by kicking off his sandal and letting it drop into the water below. Kurogawa and his men attack, letting go of the rope, but even while fighting Ogami manages to stamp his foot down on the rope and kill Kurogawa and the two ninja. Ignoring The Supreme Female Ninja, who has not moved throughout the fight, Ogami carefully pulls up on the rope and Daigoro is revealed to be soaked but still alive. Instead of killing her, Ogami walks away, carrying Daigoro.
Ogami and Daigoro board the same ship which is carrying The Masters of Death to their rendezvous with Lord Kiru. Also on board is The Supreme Female Ninja. During the voyage, rebels attack The Masters of Death, but are easily slaughtered.
That night, examining the ship's cargo, The Supreme Female Ninja finds that kegs labeled as containing soy sauce in fact are filled with oil and suspects that someone intends to burn the ship. While everyone else is sleeping, the last remaining rebel breaks open one of the kegs and starts a fire. In the ensuing inferno, The Masters of Death tell Ogami that they recognize him, but that they will not attack him as along as he makes no move against them, and race up the burning stairs from the passenger area to leap overboard to safety. Ogami cuts through the deck ceiling, puts Daigoro in his cart and throws them both overboard to safety before vaulting over the flames into the sea himself. The Supreme Female Ninja attacks Ogami from underwater, but he overpowers her. Getting Daigoto, himself and The Supreme Female Ninja to shore and to the shelter of a fisherman's hut, he strips all three of them naked and gather them close together, telling her that they must share their body heat or die. The Supreme Female Ninja can't understand why he would save her and finds that she cannot kill either Ogami or his son. The next day, they leave her there, knowing that she will have to return to the Shogun, report her failure and commit suicide.
The Masters of Death escort Lord Kiru and his entourage through a desert area, where they are attacked by a concealed rebel force. The Masters of Death fight off and kill all of the rebels as Lord Kiru is taken to safety. However, they haven't gone far before they see Daigoro standing in their way; he points off to reveal Ogami waiting. The Masters of Death finally face off against Ogami, but one by one are cut down and killed. Ogami then chases after Lord Kiru's procession, driving off the guards. Lord Kiru protests that he is the Shogun's brother and Ogami tells him "Shogun means nothing to me" and cuts him down. As he and his father walk away from the carnage, Daigoro looks back one last time and says via voice-over, "I guess I wish it was different ... but a wish is only a wish", as the close-up freezes on his face.
Mark Lindsay (former lead singer for Paul Revere and the Raiders) co-wrote a new musical score with producer W. Michael Lewis. The electronic music was performed on a Moog Modular synthesizer system at Wonderland, Lindsay's private recording studio. (The performance is credited to "The Wonderland Philharmonic".) However, certain music portions from the original Kozure Ôkami films are still part of the soundtrack.
AnimEigo has released four sequels: Shogun Assassin 2: Lightning Swords of Death, actually the third film in the Baby Cart series, Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades; Shogun Assassin 3: Slashing Blades of Carnage, which is the fourth film in the Baby Cart series, Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril; Shogun Assassin 4: Five Fistfuls Of Gold, which is the dubbed version of the fifth film, Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in the Land of Demons; and Shogun Assassin 5: Cold Road to Hell, the dubbed version of Lone Wolf and Cub: White Heaven in Hell, the sixth and final film in the series.
In popular culture
Several audio clips from Shogun Assassin are used on rapper GZA's classic album Liquid Swords (produced by RZA). In addition, the film is invoked in Kill Bill Volume 2 (for which RZA provided original music) in the end scenes where the protagonist and her four-year old daughter watch it as a bedtime story.
Vincent Canby of The New York Times, wrote "Shogun Assassin... is as furiously mixed up as What's Up, Tiger Lily? the classic that Woody Allen made by attaching an English soundtrack to a grade-Z Japanese spy movie. Aside from the little-boy's narration, the movie's not much fun once you've gotten the picture, which is that of a tubby, outcast samurai wandering the length and breadth of Japan, pushing an antique baby carriage that contains his tiny, remarkably observant son."
Stuart Galbraith IV of DVD Talk said, "A radical reworking of not one but two Japanese movies combined into a single action-filled extravaganza, Shogun Assassin floored audiences with its dream-like, poetic action and pressure-cooker bloodletting."
J.C. Maçek III of WorldsGreatestCritic.com wrote, "Shogun Assassin as a product of artistic and stylistic films, is an artistic and stylistic film itself, with the dubbing (which includes even the voice of Sandra Bernhard) working as a genre-setting asset rather than a liability. This keeps the cartoonish, yet somehow still deadly, mood that penetrates each reel. In that this film was a huge influence on later works (like Kill Bill), it's safe to bet that you've got geysers of blood shooting from every wound and plenty of dismemberment and painful-looking slashes."
- Shogun Assassin at the Internet Movie Database
- Shogun Assassin review at Internal Bleeding
- "The Shogun Assassin Movies"
- Shogun Assassin Review at DVD Talk