The Video Nasties #100 – Shogun Assassin (1980, Robert Houston, Kenji Misumi)

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‘Wherever you go, you cannot escape the shogun.’

Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way first. Shogun Assassin is a re-edit of two Japanese samurai movies from the six-film Lone Wolf and Cub series – Sword of Vengeance and Baby Cart at the River Styx. The general consensus seems to be that the films were simply turned into a sort of gore greatest hits, with all subtlety and character development removed. In fact, Robert Houston (Bobby from The Hills Have Eyes!) cut about 15 minutes from River Styx and added some scenes from Sword of Vengeance as flashback, but generally retains the flavour and tone of the movies rather well. Of course, he also added an insistent synthesiser score, but you won’t hear me complaining about that decision.

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The story concerns the masterless samurai Lone Wolf, who wanders Japan, pushing his young son in a booby-trapped death cart, getting into all sorts of violent altercations at every turn. His son is – as per Video Nasty law – dubbed by a woman, but unlike Cannibals and House by the Cemetery, the voice is convincing. Incidentally, would this be a good time to point out how totally inappropriate the name Lone Wolf is for a guy who never leaves his son’s side? You kinda have to be, well, alone to earn that sort of nickname, dontcha think?

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Lone Wolf can’t seem to catch a break – fleeing from the Shogun who wants him dead and has already killed his wife, everyone he encounters seems to try to kill him. The fights, which come frequently, are among the bloodiest scenes in any Nasty. A simple slash of a sword erupts in a geyser of gore, often spraying all over the camera lens with the force of a firehose. One guy gets his entire head split in two, and spare a thought for the poor bastard who gets his arms, legs, nose and ears cut off!

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Shogun Assassin benefits from that peculiarly artful Japanese style of exploitation, where the compositions are painterly and the cinematography routinely stunning. It just gets a bit monotonous after a while, and the fights aren’t particularly exciting to watch, though I’ve always preferred fast-paced intricate kung fu choreography over the more static samurai movie style.

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But it’s certainly entertaining, and also ends with one of the greatest and most unexpected bad guy lines ever –

‘When cut across the neck, a sound like wailing winter winds is heard, they say. I’d always hoped to cut someone like that one day, to hear that sound. 

But to have it happen to my own neck is ridiculous.’

Ridiculous is the word!

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