Shogun Assassin (1980)
"Directed" by Robert Houston

Shogun Assassin
Shogun Assassin
Starring Tomisaburo Wakayama (Itto Ogami), Akihiro Tomikawa (Daigoro), Yunosuke Ito, Reiko Kasahara, Kayo Matsuo, Akiji Kobayashi, Minoru Oki, Shin Kishida, Izumi Ayukawa


New World Pictures/Toho Company, 85 minutes
Color, 2.35:1 scope ratio
English-dubbed DVD and Blu-ray: AnimEigo

In 1980 some film distributor got the bright idea that the crazy violence of the Lone Wolf and Cub movies would appeal to the U.S. market. So they edited together the first two films, added an English dub and a funky new soundtrack, and stuck on the title Shogun Assassin to ride the coattails of the Richard Chamberlain miniseries. Boom, instant cult classic.

I can see how, if Shogun Assassin was your first exposure to this material back in the day when the originals were not easily available, it would have been pretty damn awesome. For myself, having first read the comics and then seeing the subtitled Lone Wolf and Cub films, this movie is a complete and utter abomination. I have no use for it whatsoever.

I'm not so much opposed to the editing and condensing. I can see the legitimate case for lifting the origin scenes from Sword of Vengeance and inserting them into the more action-packed Baby Cart at the River Styx. Fair enough.

What I absolutely can't abide is the godawful Daigoro narration. I know, everyone cites this as a stroke of genius to appeal to the American audience, but it completely changes the tone and the personae of the main characters. Itto Ogami and Daigoro are supposed to be inscrutable and unfathomable on their dark journey at the crossroads of hell. As Gunbei Yagyu observes in Baby Cart in Peril, looking into Daigoro's eyes is like gazing into the abyss of the damned. When we're privy to his banal little-boy thoughts like "My Dad gets kinda sad and stuff sometimes" or whatever, it's just criminally wrong. No, no, no, no, no.

The English re-write even changes around the story circumstances to dumb everything down for the mouth-breathing knuckle-draggers of the non-Asian persuasion. Like the stupid way Retsudo Yagyu is presented as "the Shogun." That's like a dubbed edition of the original Star Wars making out Darth Vader to be the Emperor. This shit just gets me all riled up.

So if you're a fan of Shogun Assassin from back in the '80s and you treasure it today for all the memories, I respect that. More power to you. But I recoil in horror at the thought of new fans today getting introduced to Lone Wolf and Cub by way of this insulting turd. Kids, never mind what little B.B. in Kill Bill Vol. 2 says. Stick to the real deal.

The Lone Wolf and Cub Series

The Jidai-Geki Knights
Cinema