Much like its Italian brother genre, the spaghetti western, Japanese chambara of the early 70's, after the golden age of samurai cinema in the 60's, was in desperate need for a breath of fresh air, for new ways to satisfy an audience tired of the same old offerings. SHADOW HUNTERS belongs to that particular niche that saw more titillating and bloodier pulpy b-movies bordering heavily on exploitation and infused with purely comic book sensibilities. Of course all these were already staples of the genre in the 60's and Shadow Hunters, without any lofty ambitions it must be said, follows the path of Nemuri Kyoshiro and other popular low-brow chambara characters, with the violence and blood amplified and some female nudity thrown in for good measure.
The plot and dialogues never rise above comic-book pulp, as three dishonoured ronin called the Shadow Hunters come to the aid of an impoverished clan fighting to secure its future against the greedy paws of an ailing Tokugawa Shogunate. Escorting an envoy of the clan en route to Edo, the three ronins hack and slice their way through Shogunate agents, ninjas and spies, leaving behind them a trail of blood and chopped limbs and pausing enough to reminisce in flashback of how the Shogunate wronged them. Nothing we haven't seen in other, better movies but still boasting a capable body count and more than enough swordplay action to please the hardened chambara aficionado.
What really detracts from it however is first the awful score, the kind of groovy jazz music one would usually encounter in pinku and yakuza films of the time and completely out of place in the context of rural 18th century Japan, and then Toshio Masuda's workmanlike-to-poor direction. Jubei's flashback of being made to act as the second (executioner) to the lord of his own clan, no more than a child, ends literally in a whirl of embarrassment. If you can ignore the above and done made your way through superior chambaras of the early 70's like the mighty LONE WOLF AND CUB series, this is good for 90 minutes of brainless fun.
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