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Shogun Assassin - Blu-ray Review

4 stars


Shogun Assassin Blu-ray Review

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Quentin Tarantino might have breathed new life into America’s fascination with Kung Fu cinema with Kill Bill.  He can be credited for bringing the word ‘Grindhouse’ back into our national lexicon.  Hell, he might have even helped make Robert Rodriguez’s Machete a possibility simply through his enthusiasm for the project.  Choose whichever statement to believe and you have proof enough of Tarantino’s genius with filmmaking and film appreciation.  Yet, even without his assistance in making passed-over films well-known for their beauty, I think Shogun Assassin stands as a giant of its genre; a true mark of inspired filmmaking.

The choice between Life or Death is usually a simple one, but when the person making that choice is only a child, well, that decision is one of fascinating poetic beauty.  And that’s what it comes down to in John Houston’s Shogun Assassin: will it be the child’s ball or the sword?  Obviously, Grindhouse enthusiasts know the boy will choose the bloody sword, but the true joy of the ultra-violent and highly-stylish narrative – now available on Blu-ray – is in its exploitative journey across the flat expanse of its Asian homeland.

In what is actually a retooling of the first two films in the Lone Wolf and Cub series, Sword of Vengeance and Baby Cart at the River Styx, Houston’s Shogun Assassin tells how one Masterless samurai – called Lone Wolf (Tomisaburo Wakayama) – defied his orders and raised his motherless son – appropriately called Cub (Akihiro Tomikawa) while on the road in escape; battling a multitude of male and female ninjas sent from the revenge-driven Shogun grieving over his own murdered son.  With a great sense of visual style and super-spacey sounds, Shogun Assassin is supremely ripe with fantastic action pieces and over-the-top swordplay, including several sequences involving Cub and his sword-ready cart.

Insanely stoic and savage as a beast, Wakayama’s performance as Lone Wolf is a classic feat of bravado among the hard core of Grindhouse enthusiasts.  This ‘cool as a cucumber’ character is where the East meets Eastwood.  Tomikawa is not glinty-eyed like The Man With No Name, but certainly he is a man of little words and a fistful of steely vengeance, regardless if on foot, in a forest, or in a town.  He kills because there is no other way.  The sword is all he knows.

Blistering with cross-continent scenes that include a mystical forest, bleeding sands, and a fireless journey across the sea, Houston’s Shogun Assassin is tour de force of Asian cinema.  It’s epic and breathless in cinematography, courtesy of the visual punch by Chishi Makiura.  It’s also funny as hell, giving some of its victims a moment to reflect at the perfect “timing” of Love Wolf with the blade as they bleed out and splatter the camera.

The blood gushes like water from each decapitation; the English dub is fantastically rendered by the vocal efforts of Lamont Johnson, Marshal Efron and Sandra Bernhard; the swordplay is viscous and boisterous, but there’s no denying that it absolutely works with only a few minor hiccups in its pacing.  Unless you had a certain background in film history, you’d never be able to tell its origin as two separate films.  Proof enough, that this import is a classic Samurai narrative and an iconic-laden classic of 1980 cult film.  So, pop the disc in, sit back, and let the bloodbath begin…all in glorious High Definition.


Component Grades
Movie
DVD
4 stars
4 stars
DVD Experience
4 stars

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - August 24, 2010
Screen Formats: 2.35:1
Subtitles
: None
Audio:
ENGLISH Linear PCM 2.0 Stereo
Discs: 25gb disc

AnimEigo's Blu-ray transfer was made by editing polished HD video from the Japanese originals over the original 1980 version.  While it doesn’t sport the original language track, the English track is so utterly perfect, that it won’t bother purists of the genre.

Supplements:

Commentaries:

  • The first features Producer David Weisman, Illustrator Jim Evans, and Gibran Evans (the voice of Cub, who narrates the film), all talking about the film; its influence and its restoration.
  • The second commentary features a fascinating look into Shogun Assassin and its history with Film Scholar Ric Meyers and Martial Arts Expert Steve Watson.

Featurettes:

  • Samuel L. Jackson Interview (12:43): this interview features Jackson discussing how he got into the Samurai genre and what the film means to him.  This interview might seem random, but don’t forget that Jackson is the voice of Afro Samurai.
  • Restoration Gallery (3:45): this bonus feature explains and illustrates the pain-staking lengths that went into restoring this classic film, a truly captivating featurette that should be standard issue on any film made before the advent of all things HD.
  • Program Notes (10:33): the featurette includes general information regarding the film.

Trailers:

The original trailer, converted to HD, is also included on the disc.

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