Film Reviews

Shogun Assassin 3: Slashing Blades of Carnage Buichi Saito

Rating - 6/10

Shogun Assassin 3: Slashing Blades of Carnage is the Americanized, dubbed version of Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril, the fourth film in that series (the original Shogun Assassin was an action heavy, character light version of the first two Lone Wolf and Cub movies). Previously unseen by me, the Shogun Assassin series lingers heavily over modern pop culture, explicitly in the work of the RZA and Quentin Tarantino. RZA sampled dialog and narration from Shogun Assassin 3 to wrap his early production masterpiece, GZA/Genius's Liquid Swords with a disturbing pall of brutal corruption. Tarantino used the very same narration in Kill Bill Volume 2 to underline the same themes, going so far as to place the film as a character's favorite.

As the fourth in an ongoing series based on a manga, Shogun Assassin 3: Slashing Blades of Carnage is often episodic and abrupt, wasting no time in its 81 minutes in introducing or dispatching characters or jumping tenuously from one plotline to another. Story and character development are rare luxuries in a string of swordfight confrontations escalating in scale and carnage. As a fine example of one of the primary grindhouse genres, the film is heavy on spectacular exploitation elements. Before the open credits, a key image is a florid spray of bright red blood across bare breasts tattoed with Eastern caricature, and the film continues to be liberal in terms of blood spray, nudity, severed limbs and heads, and dime store oriental exoticism.

Aspects of translation create an atmosphere truly different from the movie's original vocation as a serial actioneer. Cartoonish voices of clumbsy translation, a Ken Nordinesque narrator eager to fill any gaps, and an often innapropriately funky score create their own disconnected mood, at once mythical and disposable, that help as much as the image to create a seperate fantasy world, and this feel is what has been lifted and personally transmorgified in the fractured audio symphonies of the RZA and the filmmaker as DJ cut and paste of Tarantino's Kill Bill pictures.

Shogun Assassin 3: Slashing Blades of Carnage has its own resource inflicted non-sequitors that, like the Americanization process, end up being peculiar charms. The ongoing story concerns a master swordsman whose wife has been murdered by his master who turned against him in intense paranoia. As he is exiled and pursued, he roams the land accepting work as an assasin. The entire time, he is accompanied by his toddler son, both living "at the crossroads of hell", the young boy born into a world of violence and betrayal. The use of a child in this setting is simultaneously disturbing, thoughtful, and adorable, as no dialog more complex than "Daaad!" and no emotion beyond passive confusion are used to suggest, in the story, profound resolve that has already seen beyond death.

Director Buichi Saito does a fine job taking over the series from Kenji Misumi. The action scenes are pleasingly elaborate and bloody, dazzlingly shot and choreographed. They necessarily depend, as star Tomisaburo Wakayama dispatches literal armies that inspired Tarantino's Crazy 88, on the irrational group fighting style of approaching the hero one or a few at a time, but the execution is mostly convincing and always admirable to behold. Between these sequences, space is found for good cinematography and stylish atmosphere, particularly during multiple character flashbacks. As (for awhile) the primary villian, Michie Azuma is often beautifully exposed, even in impractical situations, but her flashbacks have joyful style and an early recollection by the man who inked her is genuinely erotic.

It is difficult for Shogun Assassin 3: Slashing Blades of Carnage to have much broad resonance, being as it is just another notch in a series, but the pervasive themes of the movies are well on display. Fetishistic of honor but nihilistic of existence, the presence of a hardened Cub to the otherwise typical Lone Wolf lends all of the bloodshed a disturbing perspective, the eternal strife of a cold world from birth. Revenge is seen through a cynical gaze, perceived as necessary and obligatory but unending and spawning more destruction. Shogun Assassin 3: Slashing Blades of Carnage lingers at the crossroads of hell, with no indication of coming back.