Originally released in the early 70's, when the Lone Wolf and Cub films were imported to the US in the 80's distributors chopped the first two films up, merging them, dubbed and rescored, and retitled the whole shebang Shogun Assassin. Then came the dubbed version of the third film, retitled Lupine Wolf. The rest of the films in the six film series were never given the same treatment until now. Animeigo has decided the films (they've released all of the originals and Shogun and Lupine) sold well enough to commission dubs of the rest of the series. So, now we get Shogun Assassin 3: Slashing Blades of Carnage which is the dubbed version of the fourth Lone Wolf film Baby Cart in Peril.
Based in the acclaimed samurai manga by Kazu Koike and Goseki Kojima, the series tells the tale of deposed executioner Ogami Itto and his quest for vengeance against the Yagyu Clan who framed him and murdered his wife. Now a wandering sword for hire, Ogami and his son Diagoro stay on the move, hunted, living for the day when they might see their revenge.
In this installment, Ogami and Diagoro happen upon Oyuki, a woman on her own path of vengeance. Oyuki was taken from her clan and ushered into Lord Owari's select stable of female swordswomen. But, Lord Owari's sword master and Oyuki's trainer, Kozuka Enki, took advantage of her, defeating her with a some sword trickery and then raped her. She deserted, effectively signing her own death warrant. Tattooing her disgraced body with a mountain witch and kintaro (sort of a wild boy whose strength enabled him to fight demons), she now only lives to overcome the man who destroyed her honor.
This entry is a good example of how these films were, like the comic, pretty much one continuous story but made distinct via little subplots. While the Oyuki plot is what distinguishes the film from the others, it is also resolved about an hour into the film, leaving the finale to return to the series main driving thread of Ogami Vs. The Yagyu. Furthermore, the Oyuki plot only takes up about a third of the film, if that, while the rest strictly revolves around Ogami and Diagoro's travels.
While the arterial spraying bloodshed of the Lone Wolf and Cub films may get the most word of mouth, Shogun Assassin 3/Baby Cart in Peril contains a tender sequence that proves the series is much more than bits of the ol' ultra-violence. An early sequence in the film finds Ogami and Diagoro separated. Gunbei, the Yagyu swordsman Ogami defeated in order to become the Shogunate's executioner, finds Daigoro and sees that the child's eyes hold the gaze of a killer. Gunbei follows the boy, eventually observing (through Daigoro fearlessly, in defense, holding up a stick like a sword) that he must be the son of Ogami Itto. Although he is facing an adult swordsman and he only has a stick, the son of Ogami Itto doesn't flinch. Just as you feel your heart is about to break in half for the little guy, Ogami rounds the corner for the inevitable face-off.
That kind of touching moment, plus the dynamic between Ogami and Oyuki, two people sharing a code of redeeming their honor though it means steadily moving down a fatal path, carries the film along as much as the swordplay and carnage. Speaking of which, the film has plenty of that, including the trademark climatic battle against an army, this time pitting Ogami against the Yagyu in a series of gulleys that he must weave through while severing limbs and fighting for his life.
The DVD: Animeigo
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. Same as the first Japanese language Animeigo DVD release. While there are the hallmarks of being a quickly executed (the six film series only took three years to make) 70's production, like grain and rougher camera work, Animeigo have clearly taken a good source element and spruced it up. For a film of its age, contrast, sharpness and color details look quite nice. There is some minimal print damage like dirt, spots, and the occasional wavering which is hardly worth grumbling over.
Sound: Now the big change, the new English dub. The two things that standout in the first Shogun Assassin is the prog-rockish score and the voice over narration for lil' Diagoro. This dub doesn't tinker with the score but it thankfully keeps the narration moments, though this time it's a omniscient narrator rather than Diagoro. The two spots of narration are perfectly chosen, the first during the sequence where Diagoro is separated from his father, the second during the flashback to Ogami's match with Gunbei. As far as the performances go, I thought they were all quite decent. The voice actor they hired for Ogami was pretty perfect, very deep, yet cold, and has just the right amount over the top gravity.
Extras: Program Notes. --- Image Gallery. --- Shogun Assassin Trailer (+).
Conclusion: This is one of those cases where some double dipping is somewhat justified. You can thank the guys who hacked the first two Lone Wolf films for that, making it impossible to just put a dual language audio track on the first DVD releases. And, if after the original films release and the US dubs, Animeigo sees fit to give the rest of the series the dub treatment on their own dime, well, that hardly seems like a case of a DVD company exploiting its fanbase. A neat curio for fans of the series and a good way to introduce the films to that stubborn friend who "refuses to read while he watches movies."