Book & Film Reviews


Shogun Assassin will be familiar to fans of Japanese pop culture - two parts "Babycart at the River Styx" to one part "Sword of Vengeance" (of six Lone Wolf and Cub films) A post modern remix, a pop culture mash up, a samurai film for people who don't read subtitles and a cult classic for film collectors.

The main difference between this film and the originals is of course the added narration of Daigoro (the cub) in the Japanese version he is a silent witness (minus a few spoken words here and there) in Shogun Assassin we have backstory and "personal feelings" - something the American film industry is built upon. In the Japanese films the true motive for the villains to betray Ogami Itto (the Lone Wolf) isn't revealed until half way through the series. We learn that they want Ogami's high executioner role but not exactly why, the fact that they would steep so low is reason enough for the first few films. In Shogun Assassin Retsudo (head of the Yagyu clan) is recast as the Shogun purely to cash in on James Clavell's novel and a timely television series. After some tricky flashbacks - the second flashback is well after Ogami has earned his freedom but not his son's, frankly he wouldn't look as outraged as he does, in "Sword of Vengeance" this is before he sees his dying wife, Azami, still it's understandable, wanting to keep as much swordplay action as possible.

From here on in "Baby Styx" plays itself out - just with more Kraftwerk inspired music, hysterical dubbing and a different motivation for killing the man who is being protected by three assassins, in Shogun Assassin this man is the Shogun's brother. In "Styx" he is bringing a dye that will change the textile industry (seriously and therefore this change is symbolic of the era - modernisation - of textiles as well as weapons and philosophy) this is an even deeper theme in the original series. Ogami must frequently outthink men with guns, not that he is averse to using them - the babycart is equipped with several machine guns when the many outnumber the few (in the later films in the series) This is an interesting contradiction in his character, by outthinking his rivals and by sometimes breaking the rules of bushido (throwing his sword as a spear for example) he is throwing the rules back in the faces of his enemies, who pretend to be fine upstanding members of society but who are actually as crooked as a dog's hind leg. Outside of this Ogami always does the right thing for other people often sacrificing himself in some way. He is saying when the "system" (shadow system) is corrupt all "systems" are off against the evildoers, but that's no reason to treat innocent people any different. It's another thing lost in this re-imagining, in Shogun Assassin Ogami is a Lone Wolf with Child, in the Japanese versions he is a Lone Wolf with Child and a gentleman when he needs to be. Consider Shogun Assassin as a starter rather than a six course meal...

The Bluray - Whilst there is some film grain in some wide shots, close ups are crisp (some shots of Retsudo/The Shogun show his make up applications, that's how crisp they are) colours are rich (mostly reds of course) and there seems to be more detail in the frame so it looks like it's the original aspect ratio. All said it's not demo material but until a 3D or a holographic version comes along (with Yagyu blood swirling around you) this is the best it's ever looked.

Extras - 6 trailers for the Lone Wolf and Cub series, some are grainer than others but it's a nice promotional touch for the boxset also released by Eureka dvd. Two audio commentaries - one by Ric Meyers and Steve Watson who talk about Tomisubaru Wakayama's (Ogami Itto) background and his martial arts experience. There's lots of info on the original series, the t.v series made after the films and some philosophical insight from Watson in particular concerning the symbolism of fire and water throughout the film. There is as much fire and water as Dario Argento's Inferno and it is highly symbolic - Lone Wolf's "wave slashing" technique, the roadside fire that keeps Daigoro warm, the fire on a ship and the water that surrounds it, Daigoro holding the water in his mouth to help his wounded father and Daigoro almost drowning in a well. Water and fire represent elemental forces that father and son must harness in order to continue on the path of the "Sword of Vengeance" - an elemental force of it's own.

The other commentary is by David Weisman (producer) and Gibran Evans (voice of Daigoro) They discuss the making of Shogun Assassin, it's cultural impact and the nature of the business. Particularly interesting is an anecdote about hiring some people who were deaf and mute - they watched the film and would realistically work out what could be said in phonetic English. Both commentaries are well worth listening to. There is also an interview with Samuel L Jackson waxing lyrical about his love of the samurai genre and Shogun Assassin and the Lone Wolf series. All together it's an attractive package 9/10

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