From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
In 1980 Roger Corman's New World Pictures released Shogun Assassin and it became a smash hit in the urban grindhouses. Producer-Director Robert Houston (who was a huge Japanese film fan) bought the rights from the first two Lone Wolf and Cub films (Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance and Lone Wolf and Cub: Babycart at The River Styx) and edited them together. The film combined 11 minutes from the first film and 70 minutes of footage from the 2nd. Around the same time Shogun Assassin was released, the TV miniseries Shogun (based on the Best Selling Novel by James Clavell) made its debut (which was my own introduction to this Asian genre). The ninja-samurai craze had just started in the USA. This was a perfect time for Houston to unleash the fury of Lone Wolf and Cub on US audiences. One of the major differences between Shogun Assassin and the originals was the English dubbing which contained the added voiceover narration by Ogami Itto's baby son Daigoro. Voiced by Gibran Evans, (son of the film's promotional artist Jim Evans) Daigoro acts as the inner-conscience of the story and has a softening emotional effect that the originals do not contain. As Robert Houston stated, he thought this addition to the film would help the American audiences be more open to the foreign aspects of the story.
The movie's main character is of course the ex-Shogunate executioner Ogami Itto, but it also seems to revolve more around baby Daigoro since he looms over the proceedings and gives us his point of view in regards to the hows and whys he and his father are where they end up. Its really about how he sees things throughout their adventures together as outcast demons walking the road of death. Another addition to Shogun Assassin is the modern electronic soundtrack created by Mark Lindsay (member of the 60s garage rock sensation Paul Revere and The Raiders). Since the original films contained a small amount of soundtrack music, this really gave the film a kind of audible excitement.
The Lone Wolf and Cub films were based on a Japanese manga (graphic novel). The films were a departure from the chambara works of directors such as Akira Kurosawa in that they were highly stylized and graphically violent. The action sequences are filled with blood spurting like garden hoses, decapitations and maimings aplenty that clearly verge on the absurd. Yet, even though they are known for their comic book-esque, over the top bloodletting, these movies still do provide viewers with a historically accurate, detailed portrayal of the feudal period in Japan.
On its own, Shogun Assassin is a very entertaining mashup of the first two Lone Wolf & Cub films and is now regarded as a cult classic. I still highly reccomend to go ahead and watch the original versions as well to really get a sense of the Japanese directors' intended ideas for the storyline and characters.
Peter Roberts is the co-founder/editor-in-chief of the Grindhouse Cinema Database (GCDb) and contributor to the GCDb's sister site Furious Cinema. A Massachusetts native, he is an avid film fan that has been immersed in the world of entertainment and pop culture his entire life. He is currently majoring in Communications and Interactive Media Design.