Saturday, May 31, 2008

Review: Shogun Assassin (1980)

Reprinted from Eigazoku.

Director: Kenji Misumi/Robert Houston

I know that, as soon as I finish this review and hit the "Publish Post" button, a small group of Lone Wolf and Cub fans will be sending their ninja armies to wipe me and any trace of this blog entry. If you don't see a "Trailer of the Week" tomorrow, just know that I meant it to be for the Sonny Chiba vehicle The Executioner. Also, tell my wife and kids that I love them.

It is true that Shogun Assassin is a bit of an unloved bastard flick in the chambara community, discussions of which usually start with the question, "Why see this when you can see the vastly superior originals?". A little confused? OK, here's the story:

In the late '70s, producer and 'director' (used in the very loosest definition of the word) David Weisman and Robert Houston, fans of the Lone Wolf and Cub films, bought the rights of the second in the series, the title of which we now know as Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart At the River Styx as well as some expository bits from the first, Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance. Under the auspice of bringing the series to a western audience but presumably worried that the series "orientalism" might not be well received, Weisman and Houston decided to cut their own version by splicing together bits and pieces from both films, overdubbing voices and narration for story purposes, and creating a synth-pop score by ex-Paul Revere and the Raiders lead Mark Lindsay. If this isn't weird enough, a young Sandra Bernhard was also added in as a voiceover part as the lead woman ninja and then the whole package was eventually picked up by Roger Corman's New World Pictures for distribution. I swear all of the video mashup hacks on Youtube couldn't have dreamed of such a scenario.

Well, the question at this point is: does it work? Yes, to a degree it does. The story gets transformed to a straight up adventure tale: main character Ogami's wife gets killed by the shogun's clan after which Ogami and his son walk the earth like Caine in Kung Fu to kill the shogun's brother (why they don't want to just kill the shogun himself is not too clear) who is protected by the "Three Masters of Death". All the while, various "ninja" are ordered by the shogun to do them in but Ogami is not one to let just anyone try to get in his grill and dispatches them to their graves.

Now, the final question: does Shogun Assassin deserve a place in the Lone Wolf and Cub pantheon? Well, without sounding like a film snob, HELL NO! Shogun Assassin is the equivalent of someone clipping out pieces of Picasso's paintings, pasting them together, and calling it "A Bunch of Cubes". In its favor, it does move along at a nice pace and has some of the best sword fights and goriest kills of the first two films. Also, in retrospect, we have to consider the film's place in history. At the time of its release, it was all but impossible to see chambara flicks unless you lived near a Chinatown or Japantown and the Lone Wolf and Cub series (incidentally, of which there are six films) was definitely out of the picture even though it had almost been a good decade after the series initial release in Japan. Even Shogun Assassin on VHS was a bit difficult to find if you lived in a suburban American town so this was the only outlet for chambara outside of Kurosawa and Inagaki. You can imagine that this film introduced the genre to thousands and, even though it's not the cinematic experience that its source material is. It might be worth seeing as an oddity or nostalgia piece.

If you prize the originals, though, don't bother.

The trailer, in a nutshell, tells all:

Compare this with the original Toho production trailer of Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart At the River Styx:

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Another Year...

OK, 1, 2, 3, 4...

Yeah, today is my birthday and I'm 26 *cough*+10*cough* this year. I got a great early present from..hmm..God, throwing my back out so I've been spending the past week lying on my living room floor in complete pain. Related to that, I get to spend my birthday later this afternoon at the doctor's office, yay! That ranks up there with the job interview I had on my 30th birthday (didn't get the job but the interviewer did notice that it was the day) and the countless times that I had to work. What's more, after the doctor, I have a paper to do for school. At least it's the last of the semester, a happy thing onto itself. At least I've been getting some sorely-missed movie watching done (reviews soon...?).

Sunday, May 4, 2008


Having lived in the San Francisco a good two-thirds of my life, I've known the gamut of vegetarians, from those who claim to eat fish "every once in a while" to militant vegans. Yes, I have received an earful from the latter group many times. In the middle of one of my "information sessions" from one of my militant friends, I argued that I would go vegetarian if sausage didn't taste so darn good. Lifestyle jokes aside, I admittedly do like my share of meat but, in Japan, once considered going veg just because meat was so damn expensive. You see, there was the US beef embargo which, for several years, gave us nipponsters Aussie and Kiwi beef as the only relatively inexpensive alternative. Chicken, pork, and fish, too, were all kind of pricey so I made by on lots of tofu, vegetables, and rice for a good chunk of 2003.

Now back home in San Francisco, I can generally eat US beef to my heart's (ironic, no?) content. Just today, I was sitting around thinking that I'd like to snack on some beef jerky so I decided to search the interwebs and see what I could find and I ended up with the snappily named who have their product shot into space--for good reasons nonetheless! They also have this sort of endearingly kitschy site that reminds me of where web design was at about a decade ago so I decided to put part (OK, half) of my refund check toward a pound of beef jerky. That's right, a whole pound! Since I do enough urban hiking, I figure I can add a little dried cow flesh to my rations. Stay tuned and I'll let you all know how it is when it comes later this week.