Shogun Assassin is a film that was embedded in my mind before my own eyes could see it. 1995′s Hip Hop classic “Liquid Swords” was released by Wu-Tang Clan member, The GZA and used samples from the cult film released in 1980. While the other members used other various clips from kung fu movies, the GZA decided to go the opposite route and sample this film, in order to give his album a grander scope. I listened to that album for years, trying to envision the content containing intense passages that meditated on revenge, death and a life of endless violence. Animeigo finally released the film on DVD in 2006, which is initially based off of the Lone Wolf and Cub manga series by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima. Now, Animeigo has decided to enhance this experience by releasing a Shogun Assassin Blu-Ray boxed set that is an absolute must own.
The series of Shogun Assassin is essentially the dubbed version of the six Lone Wolf films that were released from 1972 to 1974. There has always been some controversy concerning the first film, due to the edits that create Shogun. Only the first few minutes of the first Lone Wolf film, Sword of Vengeance are in Shogun, to then ease into the second one, Baby Cart at the River Styx. After this, the other four films get different names under the Shogun Assassin label. While purists may find this appalling, Shogun Assassin retains everything that makes this cult classic endearing with tons of blood, violence and a man’s quest for vengeance. The series follows Ogami Itto, a head guard and executor for the Shogun. The Shogun fears that Itto shall rise up against him, so he decides to send some ninjas to assassinate Itto, his wife Asami and his newborn son, Daigoro. The ninja’s fail to kill Itto and end up only murdering his wife. This leads Itto to turn himself into the titular character, traveling across feudal Japan, exacting bloody vengeance, whilst raising his son and having him ride in a hand made cart.
The set is spread over two Blu-Ray discs, the first being the existing version Shogun Assassin on Blu-Ray and the other containing the rest of the films two through five on the other. The video quality on these films are absolutely insane. The level of detail in the colors and grain structure of the film stock used are both very prevalent in this new transfer. The DVD’s that Animeigo released were also top notch, when they came out a few years ago and they’ve managed to do better than that with this new Blu-Ray release. The audio for the release is sort of subpar, in comparison to the video aspects. Most of the tracks are done in mono, which is how these film were originally presented. It would’ve been nice for Animeigo to be able to hire some people to do a solid stereo or 5.1 mix to help support the insanity that happens onscreen, but what’s there is good enough to enjoy.
There’s a healthy amount of extras in the Shogun Assassin boxed set as well. There are two commentaries, one with producer David Weisman, Illustrator Jim Evans and Gibran Evans, the voice of Daigoro and the other containing film scholar Ric Meyers and martial arts expert Steve Watson. The great thing about having two distinctly different commentaries like these is that one is very candid and fun to listen to and the other is purely informative about the actual Japanese production. Both give a wealth of knowledge and are unique in very different ways. There’s also a Samuel L. Jackson interview that shows his experience with the cult classic and why he loves it so much. Production notes and trailers round out the extras on the Shogun Assassin boxed set that definitely make it a bang for your buck.
There’s a good reason why this film has endured for so long and why Quentin Tarantino has referenced it Kill Bill Vol. 2. Shogun Assassin is the epitome of a cult film and is still entertaining after all these years. Animeigo has done an impeccable job at making this release stand out and rightfully so. It’s a well deserved upgrade and comes in a much smaller case than the previous boxed set. Much like the GZA’s “Liquid Swords”, the Shogun Assassin boxed set should be in your collection of media and is an absolute classic of the highest order.