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Wednesday, February 05, 2020

SHOGUN ASSASSIN (1980) at the Alamo Drafthouse, Brooklyn

Saw the screening of SHOGUN ASSASSIN at the Alamo and, as I had been afraid might be the case, it was the same mangled veteran-of-grindhouses print that I saw over a decade ago during a Subway Cinema classic martial arts film festival. The print was scratched-up and random seconds were missing here and there, which haphazardly cut off parts of the dialogue and caused some of the important exposition to be lost. The hero's brief underwater battle with the female ninja was entirely missing and — most unforgivable of all — the legendary gout of blood that geysers from the slashed neck of the leader of the Masters of Death immediately after he delivers his poetic/hilarious dying speech about "how the sound of wailing winter winds" is heard when such a magnificent cut is administered? Completely missing due to it having been excised from the print during its long years of service in sleazy 24-hour theaters that once dominated areas like the Deuce.
When I saw the film at that Subway Cinema screening a decade back, the showrunners were aware of the print's horrendous quality, as it was allegedly the only extant 35mm print that could be found, so the show's host told the audience up front what they were in for. (The disappointed hew and cry of the packed-to-capacity audience when the aforementioned neck geyser was missing was one of the greatest displays of simultaneous audience sadness and ire that I have ever witnessed.) The showrunners for tonight's screening were apparently unaware of just how dilapidated this evening's print was, so I'm not going to hold their not informing the audience ahead of time against them.
The damaged print is introduced to an unsuspecting audience.
BOTTOM LINE: SHOGUN ASSASSIN is one of my all-time favorites and it's a hell of a lot of fun, but it's very much a visual piece that needs to be see in pristine condition in order to be properly experienced. Thus I suggest that you avoid 35mm screenings of it, should you see it listed, if there truly is only this one damaged print still available for projection. Criterion has issued it in a gorgeous edition on DVD and BluRay, so go with that instead. Or, better yet, just watch the unedited, full-length, subtitled Japanese originals that Criterion issued as a boxed set (which includes SHOGUN ASSASSIN while simultaneously rendering it superfluous).

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