Shogun Assassin, Vol. 5: Cold Road to Hell – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

All good things come to an end I suppose, and such is the case with Animeigo’s recent releases of the entire Shogun Assassin series on DVD. For those that don’t know, the original Shogun Assassin was actually an interesting cinematic experiment by Roger Corman’s production company in the early 1980s; a flick made up the best sequences from the first two of Toho’s bloody Lone Wolf and Cub samurai pictures, edited together into a coherent story and then dubbed into English. What should have been a disaster turned out to be an absolute cult classic, so much so that they went ahead and dubbed the third Lone Wolf and Cub entry and called it Shogun Assassin 2: Lightning Swords of Death.

These two were so popular on DVD that Animeigo, the current rights holder of these films has continued to dub the remaining three Lone Wolf and Cub entries, ending now with the release of Shogun Assassin, Vol. 5: Cold Road to Hell. Perhaps the bloodiest film of the entire series, this Shogun Assassin entry also stands as the chapter with the most original story of the entire franchise. Of all the Shogun Assassin films, this final movie takes the least amount of material from the original Manga by Writer Kazuo Koike and the Artist Goseki Kojima, favoring instead a mostly new storyline by Screenwriter Tsutomu Nakamura, and the results are fascinating. What we end up with is perhaps the most epic and epically weird movie of this franchise.

With controversy surrounding the ninja of the Yagyu Clan, whose forces have been nearly fully depleted by our heroes, the wandering assassin Ogami Itto (Tomisaburo Wakayama) and his son Daigoro (Akihiro Tomikawa), their leader Retsudo (Minoru Ohki) must make some hard decisions. With his forces and heirs nearly all dead, Retsudo must recruit his illegitimate son Hyoei (Isao Kimura), the leader of a strange clan of ritualistic assassins known as Tsuchigumo. Using black magic, The Tsuchigumo sect hounds Itto and his son, utterly destroying everyone the duo come into contact with. Also, as Itto battles for his life, The Yagyu gather up their remaining forces for one final showdown.

Again, it’s incredible how well this movie turns out despite the fact that it steers so far away from Koike and Kojima’s original texts. In many ways, the violence in this film is the most shocking of the series and the sexual depravity contained is also much heavier than in previous films, but neither takes it so far as to break tone with the rest of the franchise. Also, the action in this film may overall be the most impressive of any of the movies, especially the film’s climactic battle with Yagyu, featuring seemingly hundreds of ninjas on skis in a snowbound battle to the death with Lone Wolf and Cub.

Tomisaburo Wakayama again does stellar work as the stoic Lone Wolf assassin. Fans of either Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name or any number of Charles Bronson vigilantes should find equal pleasure with Wakayama’s stone-faced killer, who strikes with gorgeous precision and accuracy. While the actor is not the debonair picture of Itto from the Manga series, the actor was definitely able to make the character his own on screen.

Perhaps the only real problem with the film is its ending, which leaves it open for another sequel which never came to pass. Still, there are enough sword fights and severed limbs to satisfy even the most hardened action fan, and the final battle is simply jaw dropping. In the running the single most consistent and action-packed Samurai Cult series of all time, the blood-geyser-filled Shogun Assassin (AKA: Lone Wolf and Cub) films absolutely deserve their reputation and stature amongst cult enthusiasts, and this entry does nothing to sully that reputation whatsoever.

This is, without a doubt, the best print of this movie ever put on disc. This is a gorgeous print with all the wonderful contrast of the white snow and deep red of the spilled ninja blood coming in nicely. The movie is presented in its original Widescreen format with a ratio of 2.35:1. Also, the English track here is nice, but I wish the original Japanese Language track were somehow included, even though the entire point of this release is that it is presented in English.

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Program Notes

It’s sad to see these releases come to an end, because few Samurai films can claim to be as fun as these Shogun Assassin films are, and this last film is a terrific capper to the series. The disc is a little light on extras, but that is normal for these releases and the real reason to get these films is for the movie anyway.

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Animeigo presents Shogun Assassin, Vol. 5: Cold Road to Hell . Directed by Yoshiyuki Kuroda. Starring Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa, and Junko Hitomi. Written by Tsutomu Nakamura. Running time: 83 minutes. Unrated. Released on DVD: July 8, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.

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