Back in 1980 a couple of guys decided to re-cut the second Lone Wolf and Cub film (Baby Cart at the River Styx), add a few scenes from the first film (Sword of Vengeance), change the storyline, replace the music and dub it in English. Now I'm a bit of a purist, me, and, to be blunt, I consider it a desecration. I said as much in my first book, Stray Dogs & Lone Wolves. Nevertheless, the folks at Animeigo sent me a copy anyway. In blu-ray no less. And to tell you the truth, I'm glad they did. Not that it's changed my opinion of the film itself, but the extras are quite nice and the transfer does look gorgeous. Just so long as I don't have to hear that insufferable "voice of Daigoro" narration and Sandra Bernhard voicing lady ninjas.
Fortunately, the disk contains not one but two commentary tracks. One features folks involved in the 1980 production. The other has "film scholar" Ric Meyers talking non-stop while another guy, martial artist Steve Watson, tries periodically to comment on what's happening onscreen. Meyers used to write a column for the now-defunct Asian Cult Cinema and, to his credit, is full to overflowing with background information.
There's also a great interview with Samuel L. Jackson. Turns out his interest in samurai film goes way beyond voicing the animated Afro Samurai series. He's got a huge Asian film collection and is more than happy to tell you all about it. Between Jackson and Meyers, it's a genuine Japanese film nerd out!
And of course there are the standard Animeigo reference materials that always enhance their releases, providing historical and cultural background and making outfits like Media Blasters look like the fly-by-night hacks they are.
So even though I wouldn't personally recommend Shogun Assassin, I realize it's as close as some folks are going to come to watching a samurai film, and I can respect that it was a doorway for people back in the 80s to discover the real thing. The TV mini-series Shogun had a similar impact. I guess whatever gets people looking to the East has its merits. I'll leave it at that.
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