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Theatrical release poster
|Based on||Lone Wolf and Cub|
by Kazuo Koike
|Edited by||Lee Percy|
|Distributed by||New World Pictures|
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 in the UK 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!” The poster and title treatment was created by artist Jim Evans. Jim’s son Gibran Evans voiced the narrative as Daigorō.
The title character, Ogami Ittō, is played by Tomisaburo Wakayama, brother of the producer, Shintaro Katsu, who is known for playing Zatoichi in a series of 26 films starting in the 1960s. As a result, it has garnered a cult following.
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As the opening credits roll, an abbreviated version of Ogami Ittō's (Tomisaburô Wakayama) past as Shogunate Decapitator and his wife's murder by ninja are seen, with Daigorō (Akihiro Tomikawa) providing the narration.
Two hooded samurai attack Ogami while he is pushing a cart with Daigorō inside. Ogami fends off the attack of the first, breaking the samurai's sword 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 shoots out, transforming it into a spear that impale the second attackers. As the first is dying, he reminds Ogami that he is marked for death.
As Ogami and Daigorō sit by a roadside fire and eat their evening meal, Ogami remembers how he offered the infant Daigorō the life–death choice: either Ogami's sword (which would mean that Daigorō would join him on his mission of vengeance against the Shogun) or Daigorō's ball (which would mean that Daigorō would be killed so that he could be with his mother in heaven). Daigorō chooses the sword. The next day, the Shogun's officials bring Ogami the Shogun's orders: either swear eternal loyalty or commit seppuku with Daigorō. Ogami chooses to fight his way to freedom with Daigorō, only to have his path blocked by the Shogun and his men. The Shogun challenges Ogami to fight his son Kurando in a duel; if Ogami wins, he wins his freedom. Ogami accepts. Despite Kurando's having the strategic advantage of having the sun behind him and Daigorō riding on Ogami's back, a mirror bound on Daigorō's forehead reflects the sun into Kurando's eyes, blinding him long enough for Ogami to slice off Kurando's head.
Ogami and Daigorō journey on, never stopping in one place for very long as the Shogun's ninjas are always following them. As they wander, Daigorō recalls how the Shogun's other son Lord Bizen (Taketoshi Naitô) and his men were given orders to kill him. Even though Bizen's men are wearing chain mail beneath their robes, Ogami's skill and blade are too powerful. Ogami lures Lord Bizen into the middle of a stream and uses an underwater sword-slash technique to kill him. Ogami sees the Shogun watching from a distance and he swears to the Shogun that he will destroy him and all of his ninjas.
The Supreme Ninja (Kayo Matsuo) receives orders from the Shogun to kill Ogami and Daigorō. Lord Kurogawa (Akiji Kobayashi) doesn't believe the Supreme Ninja's women are up to the task, so she proves otherwise by having her ninjas to kill Kurogawa's strongest ninja Junai.
Ogami and Daigorō meet secretly with a client to discuss an assassination request. Ogami is asked to kill Lord Kiru (the Shogun's brother), and in return he will receive a thousand pieces of gold. Ogami accepts the mission and is told that Lord Kiru is being escorted by a three-brother team known as the 'Masters of Death.'
During Ogami and Daigorō's journey, they are attacked several times by The Supreme Ninja's women, but Ogami kills them each time. Ogami finally faces the Supreme Ninja herself. She attacks Ogami with a weighted net that contains fishhooks, but Ogami cuts himself free and the Supreme Ninja flees by running away backward.
Ogami and Daigorō keep on traveling, but they now come face-to-face with Lord Kurogawa's entire ninja force. Pushing Daigorō 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 left wounded. He manages to push Daigorō to the safety of a deserted hut before collapsing from loss of blood. Daigorō goes in search of water for his father, finally bringing it back in his mouth, then takes some food offerings from a roadside shrine, leaving his jacket in honorable exchange.
The Supreme Ninja meets with Lord Kurogawa to report her failure, but Lord Kurogawa has another plan: to strike at Ogami through Daigorō.
Later that night, Daigorō is lured outside the hut by the sound of a woman singing. Waking up to find Daigorō gone, Ogami searches for his son. He finds Daigorō is a prisoner of Lord Kurogawa and the Supreme Ninja. Daigorō is tied up and suspended over a deep well; Kurogawa demands that Ogami surrender or he will drop Daigorō down the well. Ogami refuses, so Kurogawa and his men attack. Kurogawa lets go of the rope suspending Daigorō over the well, but Ogami manages to stamp his foot down on the rope and kill Kurogawa (and his two ninjas) at the same time. Ignoring the Supreme Ninja, who has not moved throughout the fight, Ogami carefully pulls Daigorō, who has survived, up to safety. Instead of killing the Supreme Ninja, Ogami walks away with Daigorō.
Ogami and Daigorō board a ship which is carrying the 'Masters of Death' to their rendezvous with Lord Kiru. Also on board is the Supreme Ninja. Rebels attack the 'Masters of Death', but are easily dispatched. During the night, the remaining rebel starts a fire on board the ship. In the ensuing inferno, the 'Masters of Death' tell Ogami that they recognize him but that they will not attack him as long as he makes no move against them, and they leave him. The companionway is blocked by flames, so he cuts through the deck planking. Ogami then puts Daigorō in his cart and throws them both overboard to safety before pole-vaulting himself into the sea. The Supreme Ninja attacks Ogami from underwater but he overpowers her. Getting Daigorō, himself and the Supreme Ninja to shore and to the shelter of a fisherman's hut, he strips all three of them naked and gathers them close together, telling the Supreme Ninja that they must share their body heat or die. The Supreme Ninja doesn't understand why he would save her and realizes she cannot kill Ogami or his son. The next day, Ogami and Daigorō 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 of sand dunes, where they are attacked by a rebel force concealed under the sand. The 'Masters of Death' then fight off and kill all of the rebels, and Lord Kiru is taken to safety. However, they haven't gone far before they see Daigorō standing in their way. He points to Ogami, who is waiting. The 'Masters of Death' finally face off against Ogami, but one by one they are cut down and killed. Ogami then chases after Lord Kiru's procession, killing and driving off the guards. Lord Kiru protests that he is the Shogun's brother, but Ogami tells Kiru that the "Shogun means nothing" to him. Ogami then cuts Lord Kiru down.
As he and his father walk away from the carnage, Daigorō looks back one last time and says via voice-over, "I guess I wish it was different ... but a wish is only a wish". The final shot is a freeze-frame close-up of Daigorō's face looking back.
- Tomisaburô Wakayama as Lone Wolf: The Shogun's disgraced, former executioner. 'Lone Wolf' (also known as Ogami Ittō) becomes an assassin-for-hire after his wife is murdered and he defies the Shogun. He travels throughout the land with his son Daigorō, and together they seek revenge against the Shogun. They are known as "Assassin with Son".
- Kayo Matsuo as Supreme Ninja: Known as the Supreme Ninja, she is the leader of an all-female group of ninja assassins. She is ordered by the Shogun to kill Lone Wolf.
- Minoru Ôki (credited as Minoru Ohki) as Eldest Master of Death; his primary weapon is a metal claw: The 'Masters of Death' are a team of three ninja brothers that are hired to escort and protect the Shogun's brother (Lord Kiru).
- Shôgen Nitta as Master of Death: Middle member of the 'Masters of Death'; his primary weapon is a knobbed metal club.
- Shin Kishida as Master of Death: Younger member of the 'Masters of Death'; his primary weapon is spiked gauntlets.
- Akihiro Tomikawa (credited as Masahiro Tomikawa) as Daigorō: Lone Wolf's three-year-old son.
- Reiko Kasahara as Azami, Lone Wolf's murdered wife and Daigorō's mother.
- Akiji Kobayashi (credited as Shoji Kobayashi) as Lord Kurogawa, leader of one of the Shogun's ninja groups.
- Taketoshi Naitô as Lord Bizen: One of the Shogun's sons.
- Tokio Oki as The Shogun: The sworn enemy of the Lone Wolf, the Shogun ordered the murder of Lone Wolf for his defiance. Since then, the Shogun has tried repeatedly to have Lone Wolf and his son (Daigorō) killed.
- Lamont Johnson as Voice-over for Lone Wolf
- Marshall Efron as Voice-over
- Sandra Bernhard as Voice-over for The Supreme Ninja
- Lennie Weinrib as Voice-over
- Sam Weisman as Voice-over
- Mark Lindsay as Voice-over
- Robert Houston as Voice-over
- David Weisman as Voice-over
- Gibran Evans as Voice of Daigorō
Shogun Assassin is a combination of two Japanese films, predominantly that of Baby-cart at the River Styx (1972) and 12 minutes of Sword of Vengeance.
From contemporary reviews, Vincent Canby of The New York Times, wrote Shogun Assassin "is as furiously mixed up as What's Up, Tiger Lily?" and that outside "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." John Pym (Monthly Film Bulletin) found that "the impetus of the original director's intention seems somehow to have been turned round by having the story related from the point of view of the uncomprehending Daigorō", whose narration he compared to that of Linda Manz's Days of Heaven). "What has evidently animated this American version is the packaging of ample bloodshed with the minimum of explanation. Thus, we never really learn why the samurai's wife is murdered; and such scenes as the one in which the headsman compels his son to make a fateful choice between a sword and a pretty raffia ball go for nothing." The review concluded that "the swordplay is of a high, non-exploitative order, and what narrative elements remain-the fire of the ship, for example-are handled with admirable vigour".
From retrospective reviews, 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." Tim Lucas (Sight & Sound) described Houston's version as an "ingenious and deeply imagined reinterpretation also turns out to be a conspicuous example of a beloved grindhouse experience that was in fact rewritten, restored (by Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere and the Raiders) and disembowelled in the cutting room"
In popular culture
- Several dialogue excerpts from the film are sampled in the GZA album Liquid Swords
- In Kill Bill: Volume 2, Beatrix Kiddo and her four year old daughter watch the film as a bedtime story
- Galbraith IV 2008, p. 282.
- "Shogun Assassin". Nitehawk Cinema. Retrieved 2019-08-05.
- Mathijs, Ernest; Sexton, Jamie (2012-03-30). Cult Cinema: An Introduction. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 9781444396430.
- Pym, John (1981). "Kozure Ohkami-Sanzu no Kawa no Ubaguruma (Shogun Assassin)". Monthly Film Bulletin. Vol. 48 no. 564. British Film Institute. p. 248. ISSN 0027-0407.
- Canby, Vincent (1980-11-21). "Shogun Assassin". The New York Times. Retrieved 2019-08-05.
- Galbraith IV, Stuart (August 12, 2010). "Shogun Assassin (Blu-ray)". DVD Talk. Retrieved 2019-08-05.
- Lucas, Tim (June 2007). "10 Picks from the Grindhouse". Sight & Sound. Vol. XVII no. 6. pp. 25–27. ISSN 0037-4806.