Shogun Assassin 4 - Five Fistfuls of Gold is actually the fifth film in the Lone Wolf and Cub series, Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in the Land of Demons (1974). In the original US release the first two films were cut into one and titled Shogun Assassin, which meant the only other US released sequel was actually the third film, retitled Lighting Swords of Death (aka. Lupine Wolf). After releasing original Japanese series and old the US versions, Animeigo has created new Shogun Assassin dub editions to complete the series. Got it? Good.
Based on 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.
Ogami Itto is challenged by a man wearing a veil featuring the Beasts of Hell. Defeating the attacker, the man informs Ogami that he is one of a series of men sent by the Kuroda House to test the former executioner; identified by the Beasts of Hell veil, each one will reveal more of his assignment and turn over payment for his services. As he slices his way through the retainers, Ogami learns of the House of Kurodo's big secret, a slight so grand it could put the house in ruins. It seems Lord Kuroda is keeping his real son/heir in hiding and is using his daughter (the product from a concubine) to masquerade as his son in public. He detailed all of this in a document that he entrusted to Abbot Jikei. But as the document was en route, Kuroda discovers that the monk is not trustworthy. Abbot Jikei is actually in league with a network of ninja and Ogami's nemesis Yagyu Retsudo and the two men conspire to destroy Kuroda House. Ogami's mission is to intercept Abbot Jikei, kill him, and get the document. However, even if Ogami is successful, the Kuroda clan doesn't want anyone to know their secret and that includes the lone wolf and his cub.
The next to last Lone Wolf and Cub film is one of the better entries- solid action, neat story, and the more fragmented storytelling (a result of adapting the comic, selectively lifting bits from the much longer narrative) works quite well. Alongside the Kuroda clan mission and Ogami's ongoing feud with the Yagyu is an interlude with Diagoro and a lady pickpocket. Ogami and Diagoro pass through a town holding a festival, and , as she is eluding the constables, a pickpocket hands off a freshly stolen wallet to Diagoro. The law enforcers try to pressure the boy to reveal the woman's identity, but he promised to be silent. Even as he is publicly beaten in an effort to draw out the thief, the resolute boy remains tight-lipped. Ogami doesn't interfere- though we know he could hack his way through the crowd, the series has taught us that lesson well. Instead he looks on, impressed with his tiny son's composure and willpower.
I'm a big fan of this series simply because it strikes such a great balance between exploitative action, subtle character work, and traditional period drama, like the feudal society politics of the Japanese clans. You get a little taste of everything in a brisk hour and a half. And through it all, you've got a lead who makes you believe he could wade through an army, stone-faced and determined to get his revenge.
The DVD: Animeigo.
Anamorphic Widescreen. They did a great job with this series. While still showing some signs of its age in terms of grain and other testy marks of 70's film production, the print is fantastic and bears very little wear save a brief, blink and you'll miss it, bit of dirt here and there. The color is vibrant, especially those arterial reds, and the contrast is nice and deep. You cannot ask for a better picture. Well, maybe you can, but it wold be pointless.
You know, I've really warmed to the new dub track. Animeigo kept it simple, flat, no big 5.1 remixing, so these new dubs actually fall in line technically with the old 80's dubs. While they didn't go so far as to insert new soundtrack like the first 80's releases did, they at least hired a good cast of voice actors, including the swamp mud thick-voiced guy who plays Ogami.
Image Gallery. --- Animeigo's usual excellent Program Notes. --- Trailers.
Get it. A great samurai film series that roars full-tilt with action as well as understated character. Once again, Animeigo did a great job with the material and offer a transfer that delivers for fans of Japanese cinema. It's a shame they didn't have the foresight to just make the dubs for the original DVD releases, but hardcore samurai-exploitation film fans will probably be a little forgiving and not mind a little double dipping so they can show off the films to those friends who may be adverse to reading subtitles.