Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Blu-ray review: Shogun Assassin

Based on the hugely popular manga Lone Wolf And Cub by Kazuo Koike and Goeski Kojima, Shogun Assassin is, in actual fact, made up of the first two films from Japanese director Kenji Misumi’s six-film adaptation edited together and reworked for US audiences. Featuring 11 minutes from Sword Of Vengeance and more than 70 from Baby Cart On The River Styx, Shogun Assassin was a cult hit on its original release and has developed a sizeable following over the last three decades although the BBFC in their wisdom once banned it as a video nasty. 

The story is a simple tale of loyalty, love and bloody revenge. In Feudal Japan, Ogami Itto (Tomisaburo Wakayama), the Shogun’s chief decapitator, is betrayed by his insane ruler and, following the murder of his wife, sets out on the road to vengeance — a poetic description for what, effectively, amounts to slicing and dicing anyone and everyone who crosses his path. Together with his young son Daigoro (Masahiro Tomikawa), pushed along in a wooden cart kitted out with assorted hidden weaponry, Ogami survives as a sword for hire. The result is the screen is awash with geysers of blood and bright red crimson fountains, as feet, hands, ears and arms are chopped off, bodies impaled, and heads decapitated. Originally shot in 1973-4, before being re-cut and dubbed in 1980, the film has, inevitably, dated — not least the synth-heavy electronic score — but there’s still much to revel in: from Misumi’s gutsy, furious direction and comic-strip framing, to Wakayama sublimely stoic performance and the seemingly endless shots of arterial spray.

For those of us who’ve had to make do for years with crappy DVDs, Eureka’s 1080p transfer is a godsend. It’s not perfect — there are marks on the print and the image is, occasionally, a little soft, but it looks arguably better than it did when it was originally released. The Blu-Ray includes both the dubbed 1980 theatrical version and a subtitled, original-language option, as well as two commentaries: an “Expert” one featuring Asian film scholar Ric Myers and martial arts expert Steve Watson, and a second “Production” commentary, with Shogun Assassin producer David Weisman and Gibran Evans who provided Daigoro’s voiceover for the 1980 release. Both are well worth a listen. Less informative is a brief video interview with Asian film fan Samuel L. Jackson. The Blu-ray, meanwhile, also comes in a limited edition dual format steelbook version. For fans of either Shogun Assassin or Lone Wolf And Cub, this is the Holy Grail, a gloriously presented and gory treat.

* Originally published in DVD & Blu-ray Review