Shogun Assassin
Directed by Kenji Misumi & Robert Houston

Artistic Value: * *
Entertainment Value: * * ½

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In pre-modern Japan, a deranged Shogun grows fearful of his decapitator, a man named Ogami Itto (Tomisaburo Wakayama), and orders him assassinated, but the killers only succeed in murdering the man's wife. Having subsequently killed the Shogun's son in a duel, Itto escapes and, pushing his young son Daigoro in a wheelbarrow, wanders through the country while earning his living as an assassin. The Shogun, still angry at and fearful of Itto, sends various ninjas after him, but the former executioner kills them all.

Shogun Assassin, despite its almost constant action sequences, is actually fairly dull. The movie consists of little more than Itto and his son trudging along some road, their encounters with one or another group of ninjas sent by the Shogun to kill them, and the ensuing fights, in which Itto gruesomely slaughters all of his opponents.

The fight sequences, however, include a number of absolutely bizarre elements that do add to the movie's appeal. At various points, Itto fights off hosts of soldiers while holding his infant son in his arms or pushing him in the wheelbarrow. His opponents include a troupe of female ninjas, whose leader, when defeated, is literally able to leap out of her clothes in order to escape. Later, having agreed to kill the Shogun's brother, Itto is confronted with three brothers called the Masters of Death, one of whom is armed with a club, another with iron claws, and the third with spiked gloves. When Itto kills an opponent, usually with a single swing of his sword, fountains of blood spray from the wound inflicted, limbs fly through the air, and heads are neatly cleft in two. Even his son's wheelbarrow is lethal, being equipped with spring-loaded daggers and rotating knives, which the boy uses against his attackers. The list of these various oddities goes on and on, and all the incessant depictions of combat in which they are included are made even more fun by the movie's absolutely dreadful but very entertaining music.

Because of such elements, the luridly violent action sequences are consistently enjoyable, but the absence of any real narrative makes the movie seem slow and amorphous. The ending of Shogun Assassin is particularly disappointing. Instead of reaching a conclusion, the film simply stops. The movie's narrative flaws are hardly surprising, however, when it is remembered that it is, in fact, composed of clips taken from two films of the "Babycart" series which have been edited into a single film for Western audiences.

The exaggerated violence and some of the movie's peculiar conceits are amusing, but, as a whole, Shogun Assassin is not particularly entertaining.

Review by Keith Allen

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