Shogun Assassin on Blu-ray

Wednesday, 01 December 2010 07:41

Once considered a despicable ‘video nasty’ but now a bit of a cult classic, “Shogun Assassin” is a bloody martial arts action movie that leaves dozens of corpses in its fearless wake. Eureka Entertainment presents a brand new 1080p, high-def restoration of the complete film, bundling Blu-ray and DVD discs in highly desirable, limited edition steelbook packaging.

Essentially a re-scored, English-dubbed blend of the first two films in the “Lone Wolf and Cub” series, the movie stars Tomisaburo Wakayama as Itto Ogami, a noble (and slightly podgy) samurai warrior framed for disloyalty by his mentally fragile Shogun master. A bounty is put on Ogami’s head so he flees with his three-year-old son Daigoro (Akihiro Tomikawa). Incredibly, the body count starts building up before they have even got through the front door!

Shogun Assassin - now in a Blu-ray and DVD comboThe remaining 80 minutes sees father and son roaming the land, ever vigilant as bands of soldiers and ninjas in all manner of disguises try to get the jump on them. Ogami is hell-bent on revenge but has his hands full keeping his infant son safe whilst he also takes on the role of a hitman for hire. As they cautiously pass through settlements, if the inhabitants have a problem with criminal gang or greedy overlord, they can purchase the samurai’s fighting skills to solve the matter in a brutally efficient manner.

One such village fiercely resents the actions of oppressive Lord Kurondo, who happens to be the brother of the titular Shogun. Naturally Ogami accepts the mission and the second half of the movie follows his progress, with the samurai tracking the Lord down and taking on his three formidable body guards known collectively as the “Masters of Death”. Meanwhile, one female ‘Supreme Ninja’ is shadowing Ogami and son. As she is practically the only person to have survived an encounter with our hero, their next encounter should be interesting...

“Shogun Assassin” is first and foremost a hugely entertaining kung fu romp. It does not concern itself with deep character development, political intrigue or complex historical events but rather gets right down to business, and never deviates from its blood-soaked course. Ogami is one of those characters who commands respect and emits an aura of invincibility, such is his ninja-dicing mastery. Whether single-handedly taking on a dozen soldiers or a couple of more challenging, agile ninjas, nothing seems to trouble him. If anything, this is a veiled complaint about the film as most of the time the fights are over way too quickly!

On the other hand, there are a lot of them, and they come thick and fast, partly compensating for their one-sidedness.

The action is certainly very gory, and director Robert Houston delights in pausing on jetting limb-stumps, heads literally sliced in half and necks run through by the samurai’s razor-sharp blade. The most memorable scene sees a group of lithe women fighters take on an unfortunate but reputedly gifted male ninja; they have been tasked with testing his abilities before being sent out to tackle Ogami. Whilst out of shot they teasingly slice off his ears, fingers and eventually all of his limbs, whilst the camera zooms in as each body part flops wetly onto the floor.

This brutal but disturbingly funny scene conjures up bizarre comparisons with Monty Python’s hapless Black Knight and also the infamous ear scene from “Reservoir Dogs”.

Whilst hardly a multi-faceted character, Ogami is given considerable gravitas and presence by Wakayama, and Tomikawa’s Daigoro is very cute if a little too young to act out anything other than very basic instructions. He frequently looks like he is about to get distracted by the flora and fauna before suddenly remembering his directions.

On the other hand, he does show signs of becoming as capable a warrior as his father, and manages to dispatch several baddies with the assistance of his amazing wooden baby cart. It might be made of wood but it belongs in a 007 movie as it contains all sorts of hidden tricks – concealed blades in the wheels and handles, spring-mounted knives – it is a death-dealing marvel that the video-gaming kids of today would kill for.

The high definition transfer on the Blu-ray disc is highly detailed in comparison with the DVD version. It does suffer from a fair amount of grainy noise and occasional moments of fuzziness, but nothing bad enough to detract from one’s enjoyment of the film.

The weird 1980s synth soundtrack takes some getting used to and feels like it belongs in a picture like “Escape From New York” rather than a centuries-old Oriental piece. The producers intended to release something that would appeal to the swords and sorcery crowd, and in that context the music does make more sense.

The special features include two commentary tracks, one featuring a genre expert and a master martial artist, the other featuring some of the production crew. There is also an enthusiastic interview with Samuel L. Jackson (genre super-fan and voice artist on “Afro Samurai”), and lastly trailers for the entire “Lone Wolf and Cub” movie series.

“Shogun Assassin” (1980) is out now courtesy of Eureka Entertainment. The feature running time is 85 minutes approx, certificate ‘18’ and the two-disc set retails for £24.99, or less from www.culttvstore.com

 

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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