Based on the hugely popular manga series Lone Wolf And Cub by Kazuo Koike and Goeski Kojima, Shogun Assassin is, in actual fact, made up of the first two films from Japanese director Kenji Misumi’s six-film adaptation.
Originally edited together and reworked for US audiences, it features 11 minutes from Sword Of Vengeance and more than 70 minutes from Baby Cart On The River Styx, and was a cult hit on its original release.
Since then it has developed a sizeable following, even if the BBFC in its infinite wisdom once banned it as a video nasty.
The story is a simple one of loyalty, love and bloody revenge. In Feudal Japan, Ogami Itto (Tomisaburo Wakayama), the Shogun’s chief decapitator, is betrayed by his insane ruler.
Following the murder of his wife he sets out on the road to vengeance – a poetic description for what, effectively, amounts to slicing and dicing anyone and everyone who crosses his path.
Together with his young son Daigoro (Masahiro Tomikawa), pushed along in a wooden cart kitted out with assorted hidden weaponry, Ogami survives as a sword for hire.
The result sets the screen awash with bloody crimson geysers, as feet, hands, ears and arms are chopped off, bodies impaled and heads decapitated.
Originally shot in 1973-74, before being re-cut and dubbed in 1980, the film has, inevitably, dated (not least the synth-heavy electronic score).
However, there’s still much to revel in: from Misumi’s gutsy, furious direction and comic-strip framing, to Wakayama’s sublimely stoic performance and the seemingly endless shots of arterial spray.
For fans who’ve had to make do for years with poor-quality DVDs, Eureka’s 1080p transfer is a godsend.
It’s not perfect – there are marks on the print and the image is, occasionally, a little soft, but it looks arguably better than it did when it was originally released.
The Blu-ray includes both the dubbed 1980 theatrical version and a subtitled, original-language option, as well as two commentaries: an ‘expert’ one featuring Asian film scholar Ric Myers and martial arts expert Steve Watson.
The second is a ‘production’ commentary, with Shogun Assassin producer David Weisman and Gibran Evans (the latter provided Daigoro’s voiceover for the 1980 release).
Both are well worth a listen; much less informative is a brief video interview with Asian film fan Samuel L Jackson.
The Bluray also comes in a limited edition dualformat steelbook version.
For fans of Shogun Assassin or the original Lone Wolf And Cub comic, a gloriously presented gory treat.