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Lone Wolf and Cub
What is Shogun Assassin?
Shogun Assassin is a wonderfully unique Japanese jidaigeki film made famous in more recent years by Quentin Tarantino's movie Kill Bill 2, released in 2004. It was the movie heard playing on the television which Urma Thurman's character, The Bride a.k.a Beatrix Kiddo, watches with her daughter in bed.
This cult-classic was actually cut together from several episodes of the renowned Lone Wolf and Cub or Baby Cart series, a Japanese mini series about an vengeful samurai who walks the road of retribution while pushing his son before him in a clunky looking wooden cart.
Based on the legendary, long-running 1970s manga series of graphic novels, Lone Wolf and Cub, created by the writer Kazuo Koike and the artist Goseki Kojima. These books are well worth reading and collecting for future enjoyment. LINK
The film was distributed by Roger Corman's New World Pictures to the grind house movie circuit and no true collection of Samurai movies can be considered complete without it.
I first saw this movie in Australia about thirty years ago when I was sixteen and it has been one of my favorite movies ever since. I watch it regularly and often and it gets better every time I see it, never failing to impress me with it's bold cinematography and unique sense of grim humor.
The Lead Character
The title character in this bloody drama is Ogami Ittō, and is played by the iconic Tomisaburo Wakayama , brother of the beloved actor, Shintaro Katsu, who is remembered for playing blind Zatoichi in a series of 26 films starting in the 1960s. Western audiences might be more familiar with Tomisaburo's work in the Ridley Scott directed, Michael Douglas movie Black Rain (1989). His stoic screen presence is like a large, weathered boulder, dominating through sheer force of will alone. Tomisaburo's swordsmanship is beyond compare employing smooth, elegant strokes to cut down and endless sea of foes. His flashing blade glitters in deadly arcs about him and the action does not stop. Ogami was once the Shogun's official decapitator and that title alone makes me wonder how one goes about getting into that particular line of work.
Throughout the duration of this grisly yarn, Itto remains somber and determined. His love for his son is indisputable, as is his hunger for retribution. He is a hero of immense proportions and you will never forget him.
The Shogun Assassin Story
The Story is a simple tale of lost love and charnel reckoning. Once the Shogun's official decapitator, Ogami Itto falls out of favor and Ninjas are sent to his home to murder him. The murderous team of Ninjas kill Itto's wife but fail to kill the swordsman himself. Itto holds her in his arms as she dies and the debt is set. He vows that they they will “Pay with rivers of blood!” Itto is not kidding. Being a Samurai of his word he bathes Japan and China's desert sands with fountains of gushing blood. He kills literal armies of adversaries all while his infant son keeps count of the fallen bodies.
The quirky yet soulful hook that this mesmerizing action movie uses to catch your undivided attention is the narration. The entire film is voiced over by the infant child, Diagoro, Itto's son. His unfeigned narrative and simple view acts as a captivating contrast to the steady stream of death that fills his world.
The Opening Scene of Lone Wolf and Cub
The opening scene ensnares you immediately with a spectacularly brutal attack. You are instantly immersed in a world of unforgiving violence when two assailants rush Itto and his son. Which turns out to be a very bad move for them indeed. These men might be tough, but they are no match for the brutal savagery of the Lone Wolf and Itto dispatches them deftly. One of the poor devils dies with a curse on his lips, reminding Itto that he is marked for death.
The short struggle tells you exactly what kind of movie you are about to enjoy and shocks you with the unsettling image of the dying attacker clutching the sword that just clove his head while he spits out his assurance of Lone Wolf's demise. See the picture below to get a glimpse of what this glorious movie offers.
Shogun Assassin Kills
The Cub Diagoro
While this constant fending off of would-be killers and Ninja assassins might seem like a terrible life to condemn a child to, Itto did not force his son to travel this dark path with him. In fact, in a disturbing scene early in the movie, it is revealed how Itto gave his son a choice between walking by his father's side or joining his mother in death. That's right, Itto loves his son so much that he was prepared to kill him so that he could be spared the horrors of a life on constant combat. Obviously Diagoro chose to join his father on the path of revenge as all good sons must.
Personally I am not a fan of movies that feature children as a key player or as heroic combatants but in this film, Diagoro is fantastic. His narrated perceptions are amusing and his evident faith in his father is total and touching. He even commits murder himself thanks to some of the special, hidden weapons built into his cart!
In the course of the movie you will find yourself wondering how Diagoro will turn out as an adult after living a childhood life such as the one he endures. Will he be a mass murderer? Interestingly, despite the affection he has for his father, he disapproves of Itto not killing someone that Diagoro thinks he should. Does this reveal a callousness of his soul or just a simple ability to calculate optimal tactical responses?
Shogun Assassin is Not Just an Action Movie
There are so many good scenes in this movie that it is impossible to look away even for a moment. Your eyes will be locked to the unfolding saga as it plays out before you. For example, when the Shogun's warriors arrive at Itto's home to demand that he he has two choices, either swear eternal loyalty to the Shogun or commit suicide with Diagoro, you will be tense with anticipation. Will Itto accept these choices? Of course not. Instead he chuckles, which disturbs the soldiers immensely. “You are wrong” Itto calmly informs them “I have a third choice”. With some admirably efficient sword strokes he quickly educates them as to what that “third choice” is. Men die screaming as he butchers them en masse.
But it's not just all about the killing. While the action is beyond compare, rivaled only by the deft blade work of his brother's character, Zatoichi, Shogun Assassin is also full of heart. The bond between father and son is pronounced and yet the ferocious Itto treats his son gently, obviously dedicated to his care. In return, when his father is injured in a battle against an entire army, Diagoro tenderly cares for him, bringing him food and water. The moment is poignant, adding another level of experience to the narrative.
Who is Your Favorite Actor?
Realizing that swamping Itto with troops is like feeding trees to a wood-chipper, the Shogun changes tactics and orders his son to fight a duel to the death with Itto. Itto accepts the challenge and dauntlessly meets his opponent on the arrange field of battle. But trickery is a tool deftly employed by his rival and Itto finds that the sun is hitting him directly in the eyes, blinding him. His counter-move is hilariously original and shows us exactly why it is beneficial to carry your toddler boy into combat with you.
The Shogun has several sons and all are forced to face the gruesome combatant in duels. Each brawl is memorable, showing us what Samurai movies can offer.
007 The James Bond Samurai
Despite being a traditional type samurai movie, Shogun Assassin also has a little 007 gadgetry in there as well. While Itto is a masterful swordsman and a joy to watch at work, this movie is not just a hack-fest of chopping off limbs and swinging samurai swords. The action is kept fresh and interesting with a diversity of surprising tricks. Blades inside of Japanese radishes, nets lined with hooks and even hat's with razor-blade rims that are hurled like lethal Frisbees. Yet even though he and his son are molested by these inventive weapons, Itto will not be outdone. Showing a flair for James Bond type gizmos himself, he has modified Diagoro's baby cart so that it can transform into a free-rolling death-machine of impressive effectiveness. This unassuming children's conveyance is armed with hidden spears and even pop out blades that the young Diagoro himself can employ to dispatch attackers.
Shogun Assassin Trailer
The Shogun is so flummoxed by Itto's deadly abilities that he has to call in a specialist to dispatch him. That specialist is The Supreme Ninja and her all-girl band of slayers. But not everyone shares the Shogun's faith in the lady Ninjas and Lord Kurogawa somewhat scoffs at them. Taking offense, the Supreme Ninja decides to show him exactly what her gals can do and orders her women to kill Kurogawa's “strongest man”, Junai. Like cruel butterflies her Ninjas swarm around Junai and callously hack him to bits, one piece at a time.
The slaughter causes The Supreme Ninja to maniacally laugh at her triumph.
This scene is one of my favorites because, while The Supreme Ninja celebrates her victory over the poor Junai, she never seems to realize that it took her entire coven of cutthroats to kill a single man.
In part, it is her supreme arrogance that makes her one of the most entertaining characters in this flick. She remains determined to prove her prowess and doggedly pursues Itto everywhere he goes.
Disappointingly for her, despite waves of attacks by her female Ninjas, Itto remains un-killed by them and is finally forced to come face to face with The Supreme Ninja herself. I shan't reveal the specifics of the encounter other than to say it makes me laugh every time I watch it. Oh, and Itto forces her to remove her clothes. For survival purposes of course.
Ogami Itto, master of the legendary sword style that is famed throughout the land, isn't just some savage goon who violently lacerates people as he lumbers across Japan. While it is true that he is quite adept at the fatal arts, he is also cerebral enough to use science to aid his ambitions. His intellect is best highlighted in the scene where The Supreme Ninja and the devious Lord Kurogawa abduct Diagoro in order to use him against Itto.
Together with a crew of armed goons, Kurogawa and The Supreme Ninja tie the little boy up and hang him over a well, threatening to drop him into the watery death below. Their belief is that Itto's supernatural proficiency with his sword comes from his son and, by separating him from his boy, they weaken him. Thus they face off with him in a do or die showdown. Standing before them, Itto signals Diagoro to kick off one of his sandals and, when he does, the grim faced samurai counts the number of seconds it takes for the sandal to hit the water at the bottom of the well. Because he understands that Diagoro will also fall at the same rate as the sandal and thus take the same amount of fall-time before he plunges into the water, Itto knows how long he has to kill the hostiles before him. He attacks! The final moments of this scene are some of the most tense seconds you will ever experience in any movie.
Brothers of Death
Who Are The Three Masters of Death?
The Masers of Death are three brothers who's proficiency in the art of killing is said to be beyond the compare of mortal men. Each fights with a different specialty weapon, one with a spiked club, one with mailed fists and one with Wolverine like claws. These men are formidable and acutely experienced in the ways of war, but they have never experienced anything that would prepare them for their encounter with the Lone Wolf and Cub.
Itto and his son cross paths with the deadly trio while traveling to China to perform an assassination. As these things go, the Masters of Death are assigned to protect the would be target so they must skirmish with Itto and Diagoro. This remarkable fight is the climax of the film and you will cherish having seen it.
Shogun Assassin is a must have in any movie lovers collection. Reward yourself with it and enjoy the countless hours of fun you will have watching it and showing it to your friends.
Movie Reviews for Shogun Assassin
87% Liked It
"one of the greatest achievements of cinema"
Own Shogun Assassin
Shogun Assassin DVD
Add Shogun Assassin to you action movie collection right now and you won't regret it. In what other movie can you see a father, (the guy from The Bad News Bears go to Japan) and his infant son battle killer Ninjas and force a woman into ritual suicide? The fight scenes are epic and unmatched in violence and fountains of bright red blood.
From retrospective reviews, Stuart Galbraith IV of DVD Talk said, "A radical reworking of not one but two Japanese movies combined into a single action-filled extravaganza, Shogun Assassin floored audiences with its dream-like, poetic action and pressure-cooker bloodletting."
Ogami Itto Kills
Get the Comic Books
Read the Books
Read the legendary graphic novels that started it all. Brilliantly written and wonderfully drawn, these books are good reading. They are thick but come in small sizes that are perfect for putting in your pocket. Personally I like to stick one in my briefcase when I am flying to a new assignment.