For many Americans, Shogun Assassin sits in a unique cinematic category occupied by Toho kaiju brawls and Shaw Brothers martial arts epics. This 30 year old mashup of Sword of Vengeance and Baby Cart at the River Styx introduced many people to Japanese samurai cinema, albeit in a chopped, dubbed, and bastardized form. Shogun Assassin is so far detached from the two films it combines -- the story was completely changed into a Conan the Barbarian style plot -- that there is no way anybody could argue that this is the "real thing." However, that doesn't mean it isn't good. This gory samurai mash-up maintains its cult status for one reason: it is completely entertaining. The film is lean, bloody, and action-packed. The earnest yet comical dub grows more entertaining with the passage of time. When little Daigoro says, "sometimes you have to take a chance if you want to take a bath," how can you not laugh? In an age where consumers have total access and demand "pure" unmediated film experiences, Shogun Assassin might come off as a condescending or outdated. However, Shogun Assassin is a completely defensible and essential exploitation film that works solely on its own terms.
So, what about this new Blu-Ray from Animeigo? Shogun Assassin was originally stitched together like a Frankenstein monster and has never really looked pristine. Even Animeigo's digitally restored Region 1 DVD looked dark, fuzzy and pixelated. The new Blu-Ray transfer fixes all of that. Animeigo cleverly took high-def masters of the original films and reassembled the whole thing using a bootleg as a template. There is definitely some wear and flaws in the source, but this is probably as good as this film will ever look. Visual proof of the difference in quality is provided by an image gallery that compares numerous stills from the bootleg, the DVD, and the Blu-Ray.
While on the subject of extras, this new Blu-Ray piles them on. The program notes from the DVD are still here, but there are some new additions. Two audio commentaries are provided. One features producer David Weisman, graphic designer Jim Evans and the voice of Diagoro -- Gibrain Evans. The other commentary is by martial arts film expert Ric Meyers and martial arts scholar Steve Watson. The first commentary is focused on reminscences about how Shogun Assassin was made. The second commentary is more scholarly, focusing on: the history of the Lone Wolf and Cub film series; the differences between Shogun Assassin and the originals; and the historical moorings of Lone Wolf and Cub. One of the nice surprises on the disc is a completely hilarious interview with Samuel L. Jackson, who is a huge Shogun Assassin fan. He comes across as extremely knowledgeable and passionate about the film as well as a whole range of Japanase and Chinese cinema.