Shogun Assassin (1980)
Genre: Samurai Period Action Drama (USA, Japan)
Starring: Tomisaburo Wakayama (Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold, The Ninja)
Directed By: Kenji Misumi (Hanzo the Razor: Sword of Justice, Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance)
Overview: This film recently made more famous due to its mention in Kill Bill: Vol. 2, is a dubbed and re-edited version of the Film One and Film Two of the six-part Lone Wolf and Cub Series. It is the story of an Executioner become ronin, betrayed and exiled by the Shogun he served, narrated by Daigoro, his son.
Acting: You can just imagine what it's like to watch a 1980 dubbed Samurai movie, can't you? If that doesn't make you see it for the pure kitsch of it, imagine actually being moved by the narration, impressed by the seriousness of the production and instead of telling your friends to see it cause it's corny, telling them to see it cause you sat there blinking, amazed at how good it was.
Cinematography: The difference between this and Lone Wolf And Cub One and Two is that this has the two edited together, keeping all the awesome gore and speeding up the storytelling to make room for all that awesome gore. That being said, any movie where legs get chopped off, blood sprays in all directions, noses and ears land, sliced off, with soft 'thlumps', and wicked awesome showdown battles occur, well that's a movie worth seeing twice.
Script: Here's the big difference. Take a Japanese Manga (graphic novel) and make it into a movie series. Check. Now take that movie series, slice off the first two parts and rewrite them for American audiences. You'll lose a touch of the cultural nuance, yes, but in exchange you get this haunting narration. Imagine running into a six-year-old samurai. He would have the voice of a child, yet he would have the tone of aged wisdom, drawn from the Samurai's code, drawn from the killing, drawn from the experience of years behind him. Without a doubt, if this version didn't have this element as effective, it wouldn't be the underground cult classic that it is.
Plot: For as super-cool as this story is, it's a far too oversimplified retelling. When you take an hour-long introduction and shave it down to eleven minutes, I guess it's bound to have some intricacies missing. When you have the rights to do what you want, even to change the fundamental story elements, then no one's going to complain, except maybe the few people who saw the original and appreciated the multi-layered complexities of our hero's introduction. It's a little weird to see it reworked in this way, but ignoring all that, the story's still tops, regardless of the open-ended conclusion.
Mood: Yeah, I don't know if the above picture is the best way to draw people to this. I mean without all the 50s dramatic pop-art marketing twist, this is a wonderful film. The other interesting difference is that in 1972, Japan didn't use crazy synth music, but in 1980, the music is all futuristic! OK a little dated, but it adds an element of cool kitsch. The changes were a nice touch, making the film cooler in some ways and less cool in others.
Overall Rating: 88% (Sho This Around)
Aftertaste: I'm sure it's not the first time or anywhere near the last time America's stolen something and homogenized it for their consumption. What's most sad is that one of my good friends was going on about how he knew about this before anyone and now that Kill Bill: Vol 2 is out, everyone's gonna watch this little known gem of his. Does he know that this stems from an even cooler, longer running series? Hmm, I guess I know what to get for his birthday.