Friday, 29 July 2011

Shogun Assassin

Hi there! It's been a while since my last post. I've been promising to write about "Shogun Assassin" for a few months now but things kept getting in the way. Now I'm back I have a few ideas for posts. After "Shogun Assassin" I'll make my way through the Lone Wolf and Cub series, then I was thinking of doing a Unit 731 film comparison on "Men Behind the Sun", and "Philosophy of a Knife". Two pretty controversial films, plus a bit of information on Unit 731's history. If you're wondering what the hell Unit 731 is, you'll find out when I post or google it haha!

"Shogun Assassin", is a strange film. Do I call it American or Japanese? It's a 1980 American amalgamation of the first two films in the popular "Lone Wolf and Cub" series, "Sword of Vengeance" and "Baby Cart at the River Styx".

The "Lone Wolf and Cub" series began in 1972, based on a long running manga of the same name. The series was already being shown to American audiences, mostly to Japanese expats in film theatres in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo. A film director called David Weisman (Ciao! Manhattan) and actor Robert Houston (The Hills Have Eyes) managed to see the films at one of these theatres and decided to come up with the money (loaned mostly from friends), to acquire the rights to " Baby Cart at the River Styx"  and selected parts of "Sword of Vengeance".  It cost $50,000 to buy these rights from the American office of Toho Studios.

Once the rights were bought, they both decided to create a version of the films that was more suitable for the American market. They spent six months rearranging the film, and dubbed the film into English with a crazy cast. American comedienne Sandra Bernhard, ex radio actor Lamont Johnson, The film poster illustrators son Gibran Evans, and the staff of a nearby sushi bar for the authentic Japanese grunts and other noises!

Once this was all completed, they sold the finished film to Roger Corman's New World Pictures for distribution. He then released the film into the grindhouse circuit where it went on to make a name for itself and also quite a lot of money.

"Shogun Assassin" is the story of the head executioner and skilled samurai of a powerful Shogun. The Shogun is getting senile and paranoid in his old age, and will kill anyone he sees who might oppose his rule. He is wary of the samurai's skills and orders his ninjas to assassinate him at his home. The ninjas strike at a time when he isn't home but kills his wife. His toddler son survives the assault so he gives him a choice, take the ball and he can be with his mother. Choose the sword and he will walk as a demon with his father walking the road to oblivion!

Obviously the child picks the sword and father and son roam the countryside as ronin, mercenary for hire. The only thing driving the father is vengeance, until the final battle with the Shogun!

As always I don't like to give away too much of the plot. Believe me when I say it's worth your time!

On paper it sounds like a disaster. Combine and rearrange two cult Japanese films and dub the movie with some nondescript actors, but it actually works rather well. Most of the film comes from "Baby Cart at the River Styx", which is easily one of the stand outs of the series. A lot of the characters are really memorable and some of the scenes are pretty epic to say the least. Some of the imagery even reminds me of Jodorowsky's "El Topo", which has an almost similar story and over the top style of violence. Only about 10-15 minutes of "Sword of Vengeance" is actually used for setting up the main premise of the film.

Also it must be said that this was the starting point for a lot of peoples love of Japanese and Asian cinema, and was the film that introduced a lot of people to the "Lone Wolf and Cub" series, including myself.

The film has a bit of a reputation in the UK. In 1983, the video tape label Vipco released the VHS only for the Home Office to pull it back off the shelves. It remained unavailable until 2001 until Vipco managed to re-release the film on DVD. They used this as a selling point by printing "Banned since 1983!" on the cover! Below is a picture of that cover.


Vipco specialised in releasing video nasties and previously banned films. Unfortunately, they closed their doors in 2007. The company had a certain unpopularity with viewers. Many were disappointed with the low quality of the discs in relation to their high price, especially picture and sound quality. Vipco claim that the films were digitally remastered, although it was fairly obvious the films were released in the pan and scan picture format. Also the discs usually had little to no special features to mention.

One of the reasons I love films like this is because you'll never see their kind again. The era of these kind of grindhouse films has been. The new grindhouse movies like "Death Proof" and "Planet Terror", while being good in their own right, really aren't good examples of grindhouse. Too much budget for a start, which can limit imagination sometimes. For some reason I didn't get the "vibe" that I get while watching real grindhouse movies. One thing I do love about them though is that a lot of films that wouldn't have been released otherwise, have been because the likes of Tarantino have name checked them.

Thank you for taking the time to read the blog. Once again I'm sorry for taking so long to write a new post, I'll try not to be away for so long again. If you like what you have read could you please pass the blog onto your Facebook page or join my Twitter page to the right of the screen? As you can see I don't have many followers at the moment, haha! If you are following thank you very much, I only do this blog for my love of films and enjoy talking about the films that don't get talked about too much. I also think some of the stories behind the films are really interesting.

Also another thing before I finish. A couple of posts ago I was writing about "Ghostwatch", and how it got it's inspiration from an actual event from London about the Enfield Poltergeist. Well, afterwards I got quite interested about the story and bought a book about it online called "This House is Haunted" by Guy Lyon Playfair. Well I stumbled across a website for a film that's being made about it. The address is If you're interested in this sort of stuff check it out. I've posted the teaser below.

Thank you once again,