Steve Balshaw takes a look at Shogun Assassin.
Ah, the 80s… What an ugly time it was: Horrible politics, horrible music, horrible clothes, horrible haircuts, and horrible movies. Everything was backcombed, hairsprayed, box-jacketed, skinny-tied, patent-leathered, overproduced, overlit, garish, loud, greedy, and right wing. In the USA, Bret Easton Ellis smirked thinly at what he saw around him and nailed it cold, but the best we could manage in the UK was the laboured, snotty public schoolboy satire of Martin Amis. It is an era about which nostalgia should be all but impossible, and yet…
And yet for a brief period of time, on VHS, it was a time of Anything Goes. A golden era, when the BBFC had no jurisdiction over what was being released onto video for domestic rental. It was the era of… The Video Nasty, when fly-by-night companies with the ethics of grave robbers and the publicity instincts of pornographers unleashed whatever the god-damn hell they could get their sweaty hands on before the bleary, bloodshot eyes of an appalled public: American exploiters from the Drive-in and Grindhouse circuits; mean-spirited semi-underground slashers, dripping with angst and misanthropy; gory Italian gialli, zombie and cannibal films galore, mad-eyed martial arts massacres and sleazy Shogunate savagery from the East.
It was into this grainy, garish, still-unregulated straight-to-video world that SHOGUN ASSASSIN first slashed its way into the British consciousness. I first saw it, or rather some of the bloodier highlights, playing on a continual loop in a long-since shut down night club in the centre of Manchester. It was the kind of film that the clubbers would stand around watching, cheering on the katana-wrought carnage. By the time I found out what the film was, it had been banned, and the video recordings act had come into being, ruining everything for everybody.
Fast-forward a few years. What I didn’t know at the time was that SHOGUN ASSASSIN was itself a kind of “edited highlight”; dubbed into English by a voice cast including, somewhat improbably, Sandra Bernhardt, and pieced together from SWORD OF VENGEANCE and BABY CART AT THE RIVER STYX the first two films in a six-film sequence derived from the legendary, long-running Japanese Manga comic strip LONE WOLF AND CUB, by writer Kazuo Koike and artist Goseki Kojima. The films were hugely successful in Japan, just as the original manga had been.
In the West, however, the films’ popularity was largely limited to the straight-to-video grind house fans, and would find themselves endlessly referenced by the Quentin Tarantinos of this world. Ironically, it was Koike and Kojima’s original manga that would have the wider impact. Championed in America by Frank Miller, whose own art was heavily influenced by Kojima’s deft, impressionistic brushwork, it was acknowledged by Max Allan Collins as the primary influence on his and Richard Piers Rayner’s now-classic graphic novel ROAD TO PERDITION, the basis of the critically-acclaimed Sam Mendes film, starring Tom Hanks. Strangely, Besson's LEON also springs to mind!?
Grimm Up North offers a unique chance to see the much-loved video nasty SHOGUN ASSASSIN, alongside the third film in the Lone Wolf sequence, BABY CART TO HADES. And while you are watching this brace of blood-splattered bushido blockbusters, just remember - the American remake of this film won an Oscar. Both films screen on the evening of Feb 17th in MCR. www.grimmfest.com for more info.