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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Nothing brings a father and son together like slaying ninjas

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Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Before gawking at the bone-snapping mayhem of The Raid 2, get your adrenaline fix with some ultraviolent action movies.


Shogun Assassin (1980)

Director Robert Houston edited together the first two entries in the Japanese series Lone Wolf And Cub (and dubbed them in English) to create Shogun Assassin, a singular work of badass cinema. So violent it was almost banned in the UK upon its 1983 release there, Houston’s hybrid-bastard film is a hypnotic samurai saga about the Shogun’s master decapitator, Lone Wolf (Tomisaburô Wakayama, brother of original Zatoichi star Shintaro Katsu). After his wife is murdered by the insane Shogun (Tokio Oki), prompting him to kill the man’s brother in a dual, Lone Wolf takes his toddler son Daigoro (Akihiro Tomikawa) and flees for the countryside, where he’s hunted by an army of ninjas. Lone Wolf’s desire for vengeance against the Shogun has transformed him into a “demon”—or so says Daigoro, who narrates the proceedings with a childlike innocence that’s all the more jarring for the surrounding mayhem. Lone Wolf beheads foe after foe, sending geysers of blood spraying across the camera’s lens. He also fells a few adversaries with the help of his boy, whose wooden stroller-cart is equipped with its own set of feet-severing, stomach-impaling blades.

Houston configures his material like a waking dream, superimposing ghostly images of flipping ninjas over the action, assembling strobe-light montages, and amplifying the sounds of battle—the whooshing wind, the pitter-pattering footsteps, the clanging swords. During their journey, the assassin and his son encounter a cadre of female ninjas, as well as The Masters Of Death, three villains equipped with a club, a claw, and nailed fists, respectively. While their climactic desert showdown with Lone Wolf is swiftly, stylishly brutal, Shogun Assassin is good for more than just one bravura action sequence. The film’s triumph extends to the daunting stoicism of its main character—killing hordes while cradling his child—and to the hauntingly expressionistic imagery.

Availability: Shogun Assassin is available on DVD and a 30th-anniversary Blu-ray.