Shogun Assassin 4: Five Fistfuls of Gold – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com
There’s a certain visceral quality to antiheroes that we always seem to embrace as an audience. Whether taking a look at Eastwood in Dirty Harry, Franco Nero in Django, or Mickey Rourke in Sin City, it seems easy to get behind these guys, even though what they might be doing is really morally reprehensible on a lot of levels. As heroes that are nearly bad guys, we forgive their faults as long as they seem to be on the side of justice. This is very much the spirit in which to take in the adventures of Ogami Itto and his son Diagoro in the Samurai series Lone Wolf and Cub in the both old and new dubbed packages recently released by AnimEigo, entitled Shogun Assassin; each volume tells the story of Itto (Tomisaburo Wakayama), the personal executioner for the Shogun who is betrayed and sent on the run, becoming an assassin for hire in the process. In the newest release to DVD, Shogun Assassin 4: Five Fistfuls of Gold, we see Itto do things that push our perceptions of him to the limits of what could be called heroism more than ever before, but in the end we are still with him.

Of all of the Shogun Assassin films, this one can lay claim to having the best initial setup. One by one, Itto must face off with members of a Kuroda clan, a group of highly trained Samurai who use several different types of methods with which to dispatch the Lone Wolf and his cub. Thing is, the warriors are not doing this out of spite or vengeance; each man that falls to Ogami’s blade does so for the sake of his clan in order to test the assassin’s mettle. Wanting to hire the swordsman for a job that will save their clan from shame and disbandment, Itto receives the next part of his assignment every time he defeats a Kuroda Samurai in battle.

Director Kenji Misumi, who was also responsible for the first, second, and third installments in the Lone Wolf and Cub saga, infuses this film a terrific visual style that is haunting and exciting to behold. Check out the scene in which a Kuroda man spills his part of the job to Itto while being engulfed in flames, creating a lasting image in your mind of this movie that doesn’t just involve a sword fight. We also get a wonderful subplot involving little Diagoro proving just how much like his father he really is, especially while under great physical strain.

Fans of the comic book will also appreciate the great diligence with which film-makers went to in order to give us several different stories from the vast series, many as if they were just live action pages of the books, while still keeping the integrity of this film’s arch. Some sequences are brilliantly worked into this film, surprising you with just how closely the original comics were followed, while others stray just enough to be original while still keeping the spirit of the source material. In addition, nothing here that has been added by the producers of the film seems out of place with the cannon initially set forth by original creators Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima, which is a welcome change from many who adapt comics to film today.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle for fans of the original series is the fact that this new edition is presented in a dubbed English version instead of its original Japanese language track, but to be honest the film is still so good that all this English version has done is bring this film and its series to a wider audience. Besides, the film’s original music score is still intact with all its funk music style glory, and the dubbing in this edition is good enough that it hardly becomes noticeable once the film really gets going. While usually dubbing is a vastly inferior way to watch a film, the Lone Wolf and Cub pictures are so much more of a visual experience and AnimEigo’s track is so good that is really ends up not muddling the occurrence whatsoever.

Shogun Assassin 4 is the next chapter in a saga that may be the most bad-ass Samurai Series ever put to film. This is fantastic movie making to go along with absolutely incredible swordfights and stoic acting from all around. This fourth installment isn’t the best film of the series, but it’s still better than most exploitation films of its ilk. Shogun Assassin 4 is a well crafted and action packed picture that continues Itto’s adventures nicely, while managing to stand quite well on its own.

The picture on this transfer is the best I’ve ever seen for this movie in any format. This is a crisp picture with vibrant colors, making of the geysers of blood shoot bright red like it never has before. The film is presented in Anamorphic Widescreen with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The film’s sound is also quite good, with its Dolby Digital English track fusing perfectly with the movie’s original sound elements.

As is usual with AnimEigo releases, this one is very light on extras, with only a Trailer, Program Notes, and an Image Gallery on the disc.

Shogun Assassin 4: Five Fistfuls of Gold is an awesome grindhouse spectacle with swordfights galore and a well crafted dubbed track. Also, the movie is good enough as a stand alone film that you may not have needed to see the previous movies to enjoy this one, as the story is well contained, but still allows for association with the overall story. This is a great edition of this film in any language, and hopefully AnimEigo will go ahead and release the final volume of this series soon.

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AnimEigo presents Shogun Assassin 4: Five Fistfuls of Gold. Directed by Kenji Misumi. Starring Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa, and Shingo Yamashiro. Written by Kazuo Koike andTsutomu Nakamura. Running time: 89 Minutes. Unrated. Released on DVD: March 04, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.

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