The Film (4/5)
Before this Blu-ray release of Shogun Assassin, I had never seen the film. It is not that I didn’t want to see it; it’s just that I prefer to view film in their purest uncut form. So when I found out about Shogun Assassin almost a decade ago, I also found out about Lone Wolf and Cub, and it’s those films that I have viewed many times since.
For those who do not know producer Roger Corman while still running New World Pictures had gotten into the business of importing foreign art and exploitation films for distribution in the American market. In the late 70’s the first 2 Lone Wolf and Cub films came his way. Rather than releasing both films separately, Corman took the back story from the first film, and had it edited together with the more violent action driven moments from the 2nd film to create an 85 minute piece of absolute samurai action mayhem. The film was then dubbed by American actors (including Sandra Bernhardt), and a new funky sort of disco-esque score was added to the film.
The film while not as deep in characterization, and emotion content as the Lone Wolf and Cub movies still makes for a wild ride in this form. Shogun Assassin is almost samurai gore porn, with minimal story, and maximum bloodshed. And while I spent years pretty much ignoring it, I could see myself rewatching this quite a bit (that is until LW&C hits Blu).
Shogun Assassin for those who aren’t familiar tells the story of Ogami Itto. He starts the film as the Shogun’s executioner (he cut the heads off people forced to commit seppuku), but is quickly set up by a rival clan, his wife is killed, and he is framed for a crime he did not commit. Rather than face the (new) executioner, he takes his baby son, and begins to walk the road to Hell as the assassins Lone Wolf & Cub. They will perform any assassination for 500 Gold Ryo, and they are good at it. They begin to gain a reputation around Japan for their deeds. Unfortunately, the Yagyu clan is not going to let Ogami and son Daigoro off easily, and continue to hunt him down. First with a group of female assassins, and then by the famed 3 Masters of Death.
Holy Mother of Poo! Animeigo has entered the world of HD with a bang. Shogun Assassin is presented in absolutely magnificent 2:35:1 1080p anamorphic widescreen transfer. The transfer is really sharp, colors are brighter, detail is greatly improved over the prior Lone Wolf and Cub editions, and the black levels are quite solid. That being said, it is not a perfect transfer there are certain moments that don't quite hold up in HD. There's also some minor grain and print damage, but nothing too drastic that would take away from the film. All in all, Animeigo has continued their tradition of high quality transfer into the BD age.
The audio has also been polished a great deal. Animeigo has presented Shogun Assassin with a 2.0 Stereo soundtrack, that sounds much better than it's DVD counterpart. The dialogue and sound effects are audible and quite clear. The music practically burst from the speakers.
Animeigo has supplied a nice set of extras for their release of Shogun Assassin. There are 2 commentary tracks the first with film historian Ric Meyers and Steve Watson. This is follwed up with a commentary by Jim Evans, producer David Weisman, and Gibran Evans who dubbed Daigoro in the film. Also featured is a short 10 minute interview with Samuel L. Jackson in which he discusses how he came to discover Shogun Assassin, and what he thinks of the films. The disc is rounded off with a film comparison, that compares a bootleg DVD, the remasted Shogun Assassin DVD, and finally the Blu-ray. There is also a trailer for the film featured.
Shogun Assassin is in any of it's form one of the greatest grindhouse Samurai films ever released. It is a hyperviolent action masterpiece, and a total blast to watch. The Blu-ray is phenomenal, the transfer is really sharp, and the audio is a serious jump in quality from the already excellent DVD releases. The extras are a good mix of informative and entertaining. This DVD is a must buy for fans of samurai cinema.
I am not a begging man, but Animeigo, please please please give this treatment to the whole Lone Wolf and Cub series.