Movies From the Black Lagoon: Shogun Assassin

Movies From the Black Lagoon
Shogun Assassin - 1980, Unrated

A rogue samurai slashes his way through feudal Japan while protecting his toddler from a whole host of assassins in this action epic that features some of the most intense and brutal sword fights ever committed to celluloid.
The film opens with Itto Ogami, the shogun's top executioner, reliving the moment when his boss sent a gaggle of thugs to his house to kill him. Turns out the Shogun had become paranoid after having Itto behead all of his enemies and now fears that his people will turn on him. Itto bursts into the house too late to save his wife but he makes a quick hash of the killers. Later the Shogun sends another gang to his home with a proposition-commit ritual sepiku (hari kari to you and me) or swear allegiance to the guy who had your wife killed. Itto opts to kill the messenger, along with his small army. He then turns to his pre-school aged son, Daigoro, and frames their situation in away the boy will understand. He places a ball and a sword on the floor and waits to see which object his son will be drawn to. Daigoro chooses the blade and it's a good thing, as dad appears prepared to take the boy's life if he had chosen the plaything.
The pair hit the road where dad houses the boy in a wooden cart that would be barred from most playgrounds as it is equipped with enough weaponry to decimate a small army. They must keep moving to stay ahead of the Shogun's men but occasionally stop so dad can get work as a hired killer. He lands a big assignment when a town council offers him a ton of dough to take on three well armed gangsters whose moniker, Masters of Death, doesn't even raise Itto's eyebrow (which he could probably kill you with as easy as blink). Itto follows the trio onto a boat but any chance of a showdown is foiled when a passenger burn the vessel down after being roughed up by the Masters of Death.
Meanwhile a female ninja, who cackles like a mad woman, and her gang of distaff killers hire on to kill Itto but they botch the job by coming at him in small numbers (three at a time is a cake walk for a guy who can kill you with a look).
It comes down to just their leader but she drops the job when Itto saves her from drowning on the burning boat. She returns home to forfeit her own life to the Shogun but Itto has bigger worries as the shipboard strife has left him with some festering wounds. This leads to the film's most touching sequence as Daigoro nurses his father back to health by carrying him some river water by holding it in his own mouth.
Itto springs back into action and then must take down an entire army of angry villagers that stand between him and his three adversaries. It's a stunning brawl that sees every swipe of his sword lop off a limb or strike some poor slob in a major artery. The Masters prove to be well-heeled adversaries (each sports a cool ninja weapon) but they're no match for our hero who would go on to appear in "Shogun Assassin 2."
This one is almost all action and that's because it's made up of the best scenes from two other films. In Japan there were six Ogami adventures filmed (available in their original form on DVD as the "Lone Wolf and Cub" series) that were all based on a Manga series which is also available at most major book stores.
The imposing Tomisaburo Wakayama plays Ogami. He cuts a mean figure that appears to be a cross between John Belushi and a fire hydrant. Shintaro Katsu, the brother, produces the series. He had a great run as the blind swordsman in all 26 "Zato Ichi" films (all available on DVD). If you're a purist then seek out all 32 of the films by these brothers. If you just want the action then this film should suffice but you should also check out "Shogun Assassin 2" which culls together the best bits from two other Itto films.
Best Line: "At night we make a fire, have our tea, and listen for Ninjas."

Tom Doty occasionally emerges from the Lagoon to check his e-mail and to read to children every Wednesday at 10:30am at Borders in Hagerstown. If you'd like to get a message to him, write to: dotyfox@pennswoods.net.