Shogun Assassin (1980) Movie Review

Shogun Assassin is actually a series of movies made in the 1970s masquerading as an American release. Shogun Assassin was originally called Lone Wolf and Cub: (Enter Secondary Title Here), and I believe there were 6 or 7 feature-length installments in the series. The movies all centers around a skilled samurai nicknamed Lone Wolf, who was the Shogun’s favorite samurai until he fell out of favor. Why? I really couldn’t tell you, since the movie didn’t go in-depth into Lone Wolf’s falling out with the Shogun. (Strange, since the hunt for Lone Wolf and his son –nicknamed Cub — by the Shogun’s many, many assassins is the series’ main premise.)

Before you can scream, “Run, Lone Wolf, run!” Lone Wolf is on the dodge with his 5-year old son from an army of samurais and ninjas. In order to survive, the pair takes freelance work from those who need their help. Most of the work invariably involves Lone Wolf killing a relative of the Shogun or another.

Because Shogun Assassin was re-assembled from two movies in the Lone Wolf series, this is the primary reason why the movie feels disjointed and episodic in nature. Re-assembled in 1980, about 7 years after the last movie in the series was filmed, Shogun Assassin has gone through a lot of changes. You can clearly tell where the American filmmakers have added extra dialogue to help flesh out the story. How can you tell? For one the character’s mouths aren’t moving when they’re giving very important background information! The movie’s dubbing, as to be expected for a film of the period, is atrocious, and sometimes accidentally humorous. Narration is provided by a 5-year old Cub, and although coming across as rather silly, the device is very necessary in order to understand the movie’s many plot points.

The terrible ’70s grainy and scratched filmstock that is so prevalent in many Asian films of the period aside, Shogun Assassin is a good film for action junkies. It is viscerally action-packed and at the same time heartfelt. The latter would seem hard to achieve, since much of the movie involves Lone Wolf fighting off a slew of Shogun assassins and ninjas as his son clings to the babycart, sometimes helping out daddy with a sword or two.

Prepare for decapitations galore and fountains of blood splashing across the screen. I do not over exaggerate when I say that the movie is bathed in blood. There is quite a bit of bright red on show here, many gushing out of severed body parts, cleaved heads, sliced necks, and cut limbs. Yes, Shogun Assassin is very, very violent, and the violence is shown in stark grittiness. This is not a PG movie, folks.

All the bloodshed aside, there is a very tender story between Lone Wolf and his son. The boy who plays Cub is a natural and easily becomes endearing. Consider the scene where Lone Wolf is injured and must rest, leaving Cub to fend for himself. What does the boy do? Not only does Cub care for his unconscious and weak father, but also the boy is quite ingenious when he seeks out water and food in order to keep his father alive. That sequence, without any dialogue or sappy music, made me smile.

What’s the final body count? From memory, I’d say something like this:

Lone Wolf: 400+

Cub: about a half dozen.

Kenji Misumi (director)
CAST: Tomisaburo Wakayama …. Ogami Itto
Kayo Matsuo …. Supreme Ninja
Minoru Ohki …. Master of Death
Akiji Kobayashi …. Master of Death
Shin Kishida …. Master of Death

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