Friday, February 16, 2007

Shogun Assassin

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.


Lestat said...

I would very much like to see this movie.

Wagstaff said...

Whoooeee!! Hot Damn! You weren't kidding. It is filmed in "red."

Charlie Parsley said...


You have excellent terrible taste. One day I would very much enjoy a movie night with you because you seem to select such unsually bad specimens.

It has been very enlightening for myself to watch some of these smaurai films discussed in these articles. Nearly all of them have a brutality in line with Freddy and Jason and Chucky. Generally I do not find this sort of entertinment entertaining, but as long as I can keep reminding myself that it is just a movie, I find that in the end I have come away with something.

Searching for a meaning beyond the voilence I often see a strong element of something sexual. And so I wonder about your obersvation of the teenage boy, brimming with testosterone and very much enjoying a bloody decapitation.

Thanks for your writing, I always find your wordplay and observations inspiring. Nice to see you contributing at Liverputty. When we can get together for a double feature the Milk Duds are on me.

odienator said...

Charley Parsley, I've always wondered about the connection between teenage boys' love of onscreen violence and their burgeoning levels of testosterone. Maybe seeing high levels of carnage offers the same kind of testosterone release as an orgasm, but with far less shame for a boy just discovering that he can hit the jackpot if he pulls his lever enough times.

I was a teenager at the height of slasher film popularity in the early 80's. We went to see everything, from The Burning and Happy Birthday to Me to Friday the 13th and Fulci's Gates of Hell. As my teen years progressed, the violent movies kept coming, this time in the guise of Rambo, Ah-nold and Charles Bronson's sick Cannon Group movies; and we kept coming back to see them all. Having seen some of those movies recently, I have no explanation, besides teenage male bloodlust, why we so desired to waste our allowance/minimum wage salaries on them.

Considering some of the movies I've written about--and listed above--this may come as a surprise: I am incredibly squeamish. What gets me through movies like this is the realization that it's just a movie, that the carnage is not real. Having seen a lot more actual violence than I wish on anybody, I seem to have developed an immunity to being truly disturbed by it onscreen. I register that it's disgusting, gruesome or over the top, and then I move on. I am far more profoundly disturbed by what isn't shown to me, by what a filmmaker forces me to envision and recreate in my imagination. It is always far worse than anything created with special effects and Karo syrup.

As I've aged, my desire to see violent movies severely declined. I still have my moments of drooling over something that seems excessive (I'm old, not dead), but those moments are few and far between. But one never completely outgrows bad taste. So, Mr. Parsley, if you want a screening audience with the Odienator, you're going to have to seduce me with Sno-Caps. I hate Milk Duds.

Charlie Parsley said...


Personallly I nave never really got the gore-slasher thing in movies but I understand it, sort of like how I don't much care to be tied up and spanked but I can appreciate it anyways. then again I do think of getting spanked so this might be a bad example. No wait, it is a good example. I like sex. I like sex better than the violence.

Is this because my background in the 80's was founded on Desperately seeking Susan and Pretty in Pink and Breakfast Club and many midnights of Rocky Horror. they weren't especially sexual except RHPS, but they were feminine weren't they?

I guess I went through a period of 'crazy/funny' films, seeing tons of stuff on video of course. but I definitely recall the evening I got ttalked into going to Die Hard 3. the opening scenes of a downtown terrorist attack was really shocking to me and I had difficulty getting through that opening and staying in my seat. it kind of opened my eyes though to that notiion that there were more kinds of films out there than just what I was interested in.

it is nice writing with you odie I am going to be sending a message to the liverputty editorial staff about potential business contacts. for us both to properly attend a double feature I'd expect we'd really need one of everything from the candy cabinet don't you think?

gavin williams said...

No matter what the rest say this is a Cult Classic.