British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

Shogun Assassin

2011. Blu-ray. Eureka Entertainment. 85 minutes + extras. Price: £19.99. Web:

Shogun Assassin (1980) tells the story of Itto Ogami and Diagoro, his infant son, on a journey of vengeance following the murder of Ogami’s wife by the lunatic Shogun, his erstwhile employer.

This film is what might commonly be referred to as a ‘mash-up’ picture, a single film created from the parts of others.

This film is what might commonly be referred to as a ‘mash-up’ picture, a single film created from the parts of others. Examples of the genre, if that’s what it can be called, include the likes of Godzilla: King of the Monsters! (1956) and Steve Martin’s Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982). In the case of Shogun Assassin the source material was the ‘Lone Wolfe and Cub’ series, a six-film samurai serial released in Japan between 1972 and 1974. Having purchased the American rights for $50,000, director Robert Houston set himself the task of editing together portions of the first two films, his aim the successful commercialisation of Japanese cinema in the Western market, something many large studios had been trying but failing to do since Bruce Lee did the same for Hong Kong. The final product is somewhat uneven. Though the events that propel Ogami and Diagoro on their journey are the same, the story itself bares only a vague resemblance to that of the LWAC series.

Characters, settings and motivations were changed to form a cohesive narrative, which, though necessary, resulted in events that sometimes feel disjointed; the finale in particular feels abrupt and unresolved. Despite its failings, however, SA provides something the originals lack, which is to say a sense of humanity. The LWAC series, while bloody and violent, have something of a playful quality (thanks in part to a be-bop/funk soundtrack), whereas here we find a far grimmer affair. In addition to rescoring the film, Houston took the decision to add voice over narration, provided by Diagoro, Ogami’s infant son. This last – the concept of witnessing the violence through the eyes of a child – gives a greater emotional impact, a fuller understanding, or at least appreciation, of the characters’ predicament, while the soundtrack – a series of bass-heavy Moog themes courtesy of Mark Lindsay and W. Michael Lewis – lends the film a sense of menace and urgency not provided by the SHAFT-esque wah guitars of the originals.

In light of its essentially bastardised nature, perhaps what’s most interesting about SHOGUN ASSASSIN is the following it has. Since its release in 1980, and subsequent UK banning in ’83, it’s a film that’s enjoyed a healthy cult reputation. Considered by many to be a masterpiece of exploitation cinema, its standing has almost as much to do with the input of its distributors as word of mouth and the film itself. Previous releases on VHS and DVD sported gleeful sound bites pertaining to the film’s gratuitous violence: ‘Banned since 1983’, ‘Strong uncut version!’ and ‘It’s impossible to keep a body count!’

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