The tale of Shogun Assassin is a confusing one. While Robert Houston is the credited director, this is actually the first two movies of the Lone Wolf and Cub aka “babycart” (Kozure Ôkami: Sanzu no kawa no ubaguruma aka “Babycart at the River Styx, and Kozure Ôkami: Kowokashi udekashi tsukamatsuru aka “Sword of Vengeance”) series of films from Japan. Because this is basically two movies recut into one, the story can be somewhat consusing at times, but what results is an all out action martial arts movie with blood spraying like geysers from every enemy slain by the main character Ogami Itto (played by Tomisaburo Wakayama).
Itto was shogun’s executioner after his many years serving as his master samurai. As the shogun becomes older and more senile, he becomes increasingly intimidated by Itto. He decides to assassinate Itto, but instead, kills his wife. Itto then escapes with his son Diagoro (Akihiro Tomikawa) and is chased to the ends of Japan by a slew of would be killers. It is believed that when the Lone Wolf loses his son, he loses his power as well, and he is tested multiple times, up until his confrontation with the masters of death and the shogun himself. With his son and his cart armed with blades, and other assorted tricks up their sleeves, Itto seeks out justice, but will he find it?
The story is told through the eyes of Diagoro, Lone Wolf’s young son. He relates the story to the viewer, and Houston uses his voiceovers to explain the early flashbacks in the film, and also other points where the story’s cohesion breaks down. Considering that 3 hours of original material is being condensed into 86 minutes, they do a surprisingly good job convincing you that this material can stand on it’s own.
Shogun Assassin is one of my top 5 favorite movies of all time. For me, it has everything that a good martial arts movie should have; action, blood, ninjas, samurai, swordplay – the works. The Lone Wolf meets multiple enemies, including sons of the shogun, a squad of female ninjas, and the masters of death and makes short work of them all in a bloodbath. What more could you ask for?
The music in this film is great. It’s mostly early electronic fare, with lots of awesome analog synth sounds that fit perfectly and sets the mood. While this film is obviously dubbed, the dubbing is done really well, and most of the dialog fits the characters mouths without distracting you from the action on screen. The Wu-Tang clan made a lot of the dialog pretty famous, by sampling it both on their debut release “Enter the Wu-Tang” and especially the GZA’s solo effort “Liquid Swords”, which featured the opening narration of the film by Diagoro on the first track.
This film and the series it originated from has obviously influenced a lot of samurai movies that came after it. Quentin Tarantino‘s Kill Bill vol. 1 and 2 being the major example, but to a lesser extent the recent Zatôichi film as well. It also has ties to Road to Perdition as the story was influenced by Shogun Assassin and the Lone Wolf and Cub series. These movies have left a definite mark on film, and for that reason alone, Shogun Assassin is one you should see.
Keep an eye out for future reviews on this site of the original material of which this film was made…
Check out the trailer and a couple clips from the film below: