We've been here before, at least a little bit. A dozen or so years ago, a short festival of Japanese cinema called Wild Japan played in London, and almost inevitably I got to write about it on here. Included in the writeup is a review of Shogun Assassin, which I finally got to see in a cinema for the first time, after years of watching sub-par home video copies. Even then, they had to project the film from a DVD, owing to various problems with getting hold of a 35mm print. At the time, I said "Enjoyable as it was to see this projected on a big screen, I'm sure someone could clean up in cinemas with a decent restored print in the future."
Well, that still hasn't happened. But what we do have now is a Blu-ray box set from Criterion containing a high-definition (though still unrestored) copy of Shogun Assassin, plus beautifully cleaned-up copies of the two original films that it was constructed from, as well as their four sequels. Packaged under the original series title of Lone Wolf And Cub, it's in the shops right now.
I've reviewed the whole damn thing on MostlyFilm, in an article entitled Babycart On The Ray Of Blu. And as this is another MostlyFilm piece referencing a large number of films, it's accompanied here by some Red Button Bonus Content featuring a playlist of trailers for all of them and more. Caution: the trailers are reasonably representative of the levels of violence and sex to be found in the films, so be careful where you watch them.
- Sword Of Vengeance (trailer). Setting the tone for the series, with a few flashes of frames from the original manga to lure in fans of the source material. I'm very fond of the almost casual decapitation that occurs in the final shot.
- Babycart At The River Styx (trailer). "The long-awaited second episode," according to the captions, even though it was released a mere three months after the first one. Stirring heroism! Extreme violence!
- Babycart To Hades (trailer). Contains several shots of the battle at the climax, but carefully avoids the point where it all goes a bit daft (clue: it's what inspired the Duck Soup reference in the review).
- Babycart In Peril (trailer). Includes the one-shot hiring sequence in its entirety, along with a few brief glimpses of those Terrifyingly Tattooed Tits.
- Babycart In The Land Of Demons (trailer). Is it just me, or does that final sequence of Itto fighting in his pants make him look a little too much like Divine?
- White Heaven In Hell (trailer). The supernatural stuff is all nonsense, but the prospect of swordfights held on a white frictionless surface should be enough to sell this to anyone.
- Shogun Assassin (trailer). A bit of a change in tone, with the trailer for the American re-dub/re-edit of Sword Of Vengeance and Babycart At The River Styx.
- Shogun Assassin 2: Lightning Swords Of Death (trailer). After the success in the US of Shogun Assassin, the rest of the Lone Wolf films were released there as Shogun Assassin sequels. However, as you can see from the trailer of the rebadged Babycart To Hades, these were more traditionally hacky redubs.
- Baby Cart To Hades (end titles song). That's Lone Wolf himself, Tomisaburo Wakayama, singing what he hoped would become an ongoing theme song to the franchise. According to the making-of featurette on the Blu-ray set, producer Shintaro Katsu was less convinced, which is why it never appeared again after the third film. Still, this fan video accompanies the song with an excellent compilation of Wakayama's stabbiest moments.