by OdienatorThere's a major difference between the samurai features of Toshiro Mifune and Shogun Assassin, which I saw in 1980. Mifune's films had an elegance and a nobility that emanated from the stately presence of the man who inhabited them. Mifune's characters walked through his black-and-white features wearing the heavy burden of their lot in life; even in a comedic moment one could sense that he took the way of the samurai seriously. He was powerful, human and introspective.
Shogun Assassin is also about a samurai, but that's where the similarities end. The samurai at the center of Shogun is out for revenge, and he's far from elegant or introspective. He's a human Cuisinart who cuts through people with the ease of a Ginsu knife through a tin can. Shogun Assassin is also in color, or should I say it's "in red," because the entire film is one geyser of blood after another, flying in all directions. It's porn for vampires, with a money shot every time you inhale. Body parts litter the screen with reckless abandon. "Heads not only roll, but they are SPLIT OPEN," warned Kathleen Carroll in her one-star NY Daily News review. "Split open?!" I said out loud. I called my cousin. "We gotta see this movie," I pannted into the phone.
In the early 70's, a series of films about manga characters Lone Wolf and Cub were major hits in Japan. Audiences didn't go into them looking for Yojimbo. Shogun Assassin is really two Lone Wolf & Cub movies stitched together by Canadian director Robert Houston and distributed by Roger Corman. Houston and his writers dubbed the film with What's Up, Tiger Lily-style translations. ("Oh Mad One! We see your trap!") Ninja films were just becoming popular, and I suppose Corman and company wanted to cash in. I can only imagine how hard Corman got when he got his hands on perhaps the bloodiest exploitation movie he ever released.
Shogun Assassin's poster said the movie was too violent for anybody under 17, a warning the MPAA forced New World Pictures to include. But the State Theater let us pre-teens in anyway. This is the same theater that let us into Bolero as well as a 3-D porno movie that played at midnight when I was 14. We got some popcorn, some sodas and a seat near the front ot the theater. The movie came on, and about 90 minutes later, we stumbled out of the theater equally exhiliarated and nauseated. At the time, I'd just learned in Health class that the human body contained twelve pints of blood; every body slashed in Shogun Assassin proved it. I highly doubt I could sit through this movie today without barfing, but when you're a boy on the cusp of adolescence, a decapitation sequence is like being touched by an angel.
The Cub in Lone Wolf and Cub, a three year old boy in a cart, narrates the movie. I leave you with his descriptive words:
"Then, one night the Shogun sent his ninja spies to our house. They were supposed to kill my father, but they didn't. That was when my father left his samurai life and became a demon. He became an assassin, he walks the road of vengeance. And he took me with him. I don't remember most of this myself. I only remember the Shogun's ninja hunted us wherever we go. And the bodies falling. And the blood."
I guess that explains why there's no plot, only carnage. Told you boys like gore.