Plot-wise, there isn't a great deal to Shogun Assassin, the mayhem-heavy abridgement of the first two Lone Wolf and Cub films that was released by New World Pictures in 1980. Made by Toho in the early '70s and based on a long-running manga series written by Kazuo Koike (who also created Lady Snowblood), the six-part "Baby Cart" saga found it way into the Criterion Collection last month, and Shogun Assassin came with it, which is what sold me on the package. I'll get to the originals in due course, but for starters it made sense to tackle the arterial-spray-soaked version the English-speaking world got to see first.
Working with the raw materials provided by Japanese director Kenji Misumi, producer/director Robert Houston gives the viewer an impressionistic take on the peripatetic life of ronin Lone Wolf (Tomisaburô Wakayama), formerly the executioner for the Shogun until they had a falling out that resulted in the murder of Lone Wolf's wife. (I suspect the reasons for this will become clear when I watch the first film in the series, 1972's Sword of Vengeance.) Their toddler Daigoro (Masahiro Tomikawa) handles narration duties and keeps track of exactly how many people his father has killed. (By the time we enter the story, the figure is already in the hundreds.) As they "walk the road to hell," pursued by the Shogun's ninja, both male and female, Lone Wolf freelances as an assassin for hire, and Daigoro rides in a cart tricked out with hidden blades that come in handy whenever they're ambushed. All the while, the synthetic music of W. Michael Lewis and Mark Lindsay mingles with pieces of Hideaki Sakurai's original scores. It's not the most seamless marriage of East and West, but like Lone Wolf, it gets the job done and takes no prisoners.