Shogun Assassin was released in 1980 and become an instant cult classic. Known in Japan as Kozure Ōkami, Shogun Assassin is a Jidaigeki film, which roughly translated means “period drama” and the term is most commonly associated with the Edo period of Japanese history(1603 to 1868).
Shogun Assassin was based on the Japanese Lone Wolf and Cub series of films, which in turn, was based on the hugely popular, and long-running, manga of the same name. In total, six Japanese films were made in the Lone Wolf and Cub series and were released between 1972 to 1974.
Shogun Assassin was a Western made project that was created by splicing together two of the original Japanese films and adding a heavy English overdub. But before we dive into the history of Shogun Assassin we should take a look in more depth at the Japanese originals.
The Japanese Originals
The original Lone Wolf and Cub films were based on the 28 volume manga series by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima (see all the Lone Wolf and Cub Books).
The films follow the adventures of Ogami Ittō, an official executioner and decapitator employed by the Shogun, who comes home one day to find his wife Azami brutally murdered. Only his young son Daigorō is left alive. The murder of Ogami Ittō’s wife is part of an elaborate plan by the rival Ura-Yagyū clan, who also leave incriminating material at the scene that implicates Ittō as a traitor to the Shogun – this material is unearthed during the murder investigation and Ogami Ittō is disgraced and forced to leave his post.
In a now famous scene, Ogami Ittō gives his baby son two choices by placing a ball and a sword in front of him. If his son, Daigorō, chooses the ball then Ittō would kill him so he could be join his mother in death, but if he chooses the sword, then he will join Ogami Ittō as a ronin, or ‘masterless samurai’. Daigorō chooses the sword, and the two of them then begin their murderous rampage to avenge the death of his wife, and destroy the Ura-Yagyū clan.
The films starred Tomisaburo Wakayama as Ogami Ittō and the first three films in the series were all released in 1972. The remaining three films were released in 1972, 1973, and 1974 respectively.
Staying true to the manga, the films are highly stylised and ultra-voilent.
The films were as follows (click the title to find out more and see clips):
- Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance  (Kozure Ōkami: Kowokashi udekashi tsukamatsuru) FIND OUT MORE
- Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx  (Kozure Ōkami: Sanzu no kawa no ubaguruma) FIND OUT MORE
- Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades  (Kozure Ōkami: Shinikazeni mukau ubaguruma) FIND OUT MORE
- Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril  (Kozure Ōkami: Oya no kokoro ko no kokoro) FIND OUT MORE
- Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in the Land of Demons  (Kozure Ōkami: Meifumando) FIND OUT MORE
- Lone Wolf and Cub: White Heaven in Hell  (Kozure Ōkami: Jigoku e ikuzo! Daigoro) FIND OUT MORE
Shogun Assassin: The Film
Shogun Assassin was a project by Robert Houston and David Weisman, both were big fans of the original Japanese films and wanted to create a film to appeal to the US grindhouse market.
They paid $50,000 to secure the rights, and then set about making Shogun Assassin.
The film was created by merging together the first two films in the series: about 11 minutes of Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance was edited to the majority of the second film Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx.
It is probably best to view Shogun Assassin as a companion piece to the original films due to the fact that much of the original plot and story detail was removed for the final version of Shogun Assassin. The story is much more linear than the originals and all mentions of the politics and clan rivalry are ignored. Shogun Assassin is also notable for the voice of Daigoro – in the film, the voice of Daigoro is used much more than in the original films as a narrative device to bridge the gaps in the heavily edited and butchered story.
As a result, Shogun Assassin serves as a nice introduction to the Lone Wolf and Cub series and can’t really be seen to be much more than a ‘companion’ piece, or a hyper-violent tribute to the original films. That is not to say the film is without merit – the action scenes remain stunning, and the overall tone and feel of the film defines late 70s and early 80s exploitation cinema. Shogun Assassin is the impulsive, outcast mutation from the Lone Wolf and Cub family, with a craziness all of its own that makes it totally enjoyable and compelling.
Shogun Assassin was dubbed into English and the film-makers Houston and Weisman also hired in deaf lip-readers to help compose new dialogue. The voice for Daigoro in Shogun Assassin was provided by the young son of the poster designer for the film.
American actress Sandra Bernhard and director (and former radio actor) Lamont Johnson also provided voices in the dubbed edition.
Shogun Assassin Trailer
Shogun Assassin Soundtrack
Since the release of the film, the Shogun Assassin soundtrack has built up a cult following all of it’s own. The distinctive soundtrack is full of moody synths and dark brooding sounds that has come to encapsulate the US grindhouse genre.
The soundtrack was composed and performed by Mark Lindsay (former lead singer for Paul Revere and the Raiders) with producer W. Michael Lewis, and is credited to “The Wonderland Philharmonic”. Wonderland was basically the name of the studio that the score was created in.
Robert Houston also took part in the recording session is credited with creating one track on the soundtrack called “The Ninja”.
To see the cover artwork, view the track-listing, and listen to the soundtrack, visit our Shogun Assassin soundtrack page here: Shogun Assasin Soundtrack
The lifespan and popularity of Shogun Assassin could have been a lot shorter and the film might have eventually slipped into grindhouse obscurity if it wasn’t for the huge controversy that surrounded the film’s release on Video….especially in the UK.
Vipco was the company the picked up Shogun Assassin for video release in 1983, and the violence portrayed in the film, coupled with the insanely high body-count, caused the Home Office to ban the film. Like any entrepreneurial company, Vipco jumped on the publicity and eventually ran “Banned since 1983!” as the strapline on the film.
Shogun Assassin since release
Shogun Assassin, despite its flaws (or because of its flaws) has found a permanent place in cult cinematic history. Many people have their favourite quotes and scenes from the film. In Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill 2, the main characted played by Uma Thurman sits down to watch the film as a bedtime story with her young daughter.
The films have also been a huge influence on moden comic books.
Shogun Assassin 2
Sequels have been released, but they have all mostly been dubbed versions of the original Japanese films. Shogun Assassin 2: Lightning Swords of Death for example is a dubbed version of the third Lone Wolf film – Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades. Better to just watch the originals.