Directed By: Robert Houston
Starring: Tomisaburô Wakayama, Kayo Matsuo, Minoru Oki
Tag line: "He whips out his sword and relieves his victims of their heads!"
Trivia: Mark Lindsay, former lead singer of Paul Revere and the Raiders, co-wrote the film's music with W. Michael Lewis
Released in 1980, Shogun Assassin is an edited, English-dubbed version of two films from the Lone Wolf and Cub series produced in Japan in the early 70s. I've seen the original movies that make up Shogun Assassin (namely Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance and Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx), and even though I'm a fan of both, I have to admit Shogun Assassin is just as exciting, just as bloody, and definitely just as entertaining as they are.
It's excellent fight scenes aside, I always felt the most interesting aspect of the Lone Wolf and Cub Series (and thus, by default, Shogun Assassin) was it's lead character: Ogami Itto. At first a loyal executioner of the Shogun (Kayo Matsuo), Itto breaks his vow of servitude when his master, who is becoming increasingly more paranoid, sends a group of men to kill him. Unfortunately for the Shogun, they kill Itto's wife instead. Left alone to care for his infant son, Itto swears vengeance against the Shogun and his men. He spends his days traveling across Japan, pushing his son in a wooden baby cart (which has been outfitted with some pretty awesome samurai weapons), all the while keeping an eye out for the Shogun's men, who are apparently everywhere.
After the first few scenes of Shogun Assassin, it's clear Ogami Itto is the last person you'd want to face off against in a swordfight. More than a skilled warrior, he's a man who believes he now has nothing to lose. Having broken his oath of loyalty to the Shogun, Itto sees himself as a lost soul, whose disloyalty has damned him to an eternity in hell. The actor playing Itto, Tomisaburo Wakayama, does a fine job conveying the doom his character feels will follow him the rest of his days. He seldom speaks, but we see in his eyes the hatred he harbors for the men who've forced him into this position. Because he has opposed his master, Itto is convinced he's become a demon, one pissed enough to take as many of the Shogun's men to hell with him as he can.
I usually loathe “Americanized” versions of films, and I especially can't stand it when foreign movies are dubbed into English. Shogun Assassin is one of the very few exceptions I've come across: a westernized version of a classic Asian series that loses absolutely nothing in the translation.