The Lone Wolf and Cub films – and Shogun Assassin, which saw the first two movies edited together into an English dubbed version that troubled the UK censors – made a star of Tomisaburo Wakayama. The ultra violent and bloody series of six 1970s films based on a Manga series of the same name saw Wakayama play an assassin for hire accompanied by his young son.

But before he made a name for himself in that series, Wakayama played a samurai in another trio of violent samurai films – The Bounty Hunter Trilogy, which Radiance Films have brought to Blu-Ray in the UK in a lavish boxset.

The Bounty Hunter Trilogy encompasses Killer’s Mission (1969), The Fort of Death (1969) and Eight Men to Kill (1972), the first and third directed by Shegihiro Ozawa and the middle film helmed by Eiichi Kudo.

The series follows Wakayama’s Shogun-era spy Shikoro Ichibei and are inspired by the James Bond films and Italian Spaghetti Westerns, down to the choice of music cuts and gadgets which wouldn’t be out of place if Q Branch had provided them for 007. So, let’s delve into the trio of films on this wonderful boxset.

Killer’s Mission

Director: Shegihiro Ozawa
Screenplay: Koji Tokada, Normichu Matsudaira, Masaru Igami
Starring: Tomisaburo Wakayama, Yumiko Nogawa, Tomoko Mayama, Jukei Fujioka, Kenji Ushio, Koji Sekiyama, Osman Yusuf, Chiezo Kataoka
Country: Japan
Running time: 90 min
Year: 1969
BBFC certificate: 15

The first film in the trilogy revolves around a plot to attempt to stop the Dutch selling guns to a hostile clan during the Shogun era in Japan in the mid-1700s. Shikoro Ichibei (Wakayama) is sent in undercover, effectively as a secret agent, to find out about the plot and to try to stop it. He’s joined off and on throughout the film by Kagero (Yumiko Nogawa), Toguro (Kenji Ushio) and Akane (Tomoko Mayama). The plot features a lot of betrayal or apparent betrayal, with plenty of twists and turns, loyalties apparently swapping and then swapping again and motivations not always clear throughout.

This being a samurai film, the action is key and this doesn’t disappoint, with a series of set pieces where the claret flows and sprays against a backdrop of beautiful and interesting locations. The action mostly involves swordplay but there’s also some shooting (with weapons from a later date than the setting, but then this is fiction so historical accuracy hardly matters when the action is this entertaining). The opening fight is also a stylish affair with freeze frames and wire work taking centre stage.

Those aforementioned homages to the James Bond films and Italian Westerns come to the fore through the action sequences, which features gadgets and, in the penultimate showdown, close ups on eyes and mouths and a score that would feel at home in a Spaghetti Western. The score, by Masao Yagi, also pays homage to the 1960s Sean Connery 007 films. The scenery is striking, epitomised by gorgeous opening and closing sunsets over the sea and the locations are memorable.

The tone is fun for much of the running time – in addition to the Bond and Italian homages, there’s a quite wonderful in-joke referencing the long-running series of Zatoichi films. However, what does leave a sour taste in the mouth is the treatment of women; there’s a really dark misogynistic tone to a number of the scenes involving female characters which are very problematic in 2024, and a blemish on a film that is otherwise a treat.

In closing, despite the very uncomfortable treatment of women (something each film in the trilogy features to an extent), Killer’s Mission is an entertaining opening to the trilogy with some great action scenes, nice touches homaging other films of the era, a fabulous score and some strong performances, in particular a wonderfully conflicted role for Chiezo Kataoka.


The Fort of Death

Director: Eiichi Kudo
Screenplay: Koji Takada
Starring: Tomisaburo Wakayama, Tomoko Mayama, Sanae Tsuchida, Bin Amatsu, Kenji Ushio, Teruo Ishiyama
Country: Japan
Running time: 97 min
Year: 1969
BBFC certificate: 15

The Fort of Death, Eiichi Kudo’s sole entry in the trilogy, is a very different affair to the other two. Tonally it’s much more straight faced and darker. It begins like a spaghetti western, with a brief windswept gun fight, followed by a melancholy opening titles song. The story sees us rejoin doctor and bounty hunter Shikoro Ichibei who, whilst treating a patient’s venereal disease is contracted by the patient to protect a village of farmers from an evil lord. He sets off with comrades in toe.

Despite the more serious tone, Ichibei still has a range of gadgets that he uses in his battles, which continue the James Bond influences. But this is where the lighter tone ends; it’s a truly dark affair with a particularly downbeat ending that leaves a sting in the tail and makes you contemplate the waves of death that permeate the story.

The titular fort and village is a striking set and it’s often quite beautiful in the way it is framed against the sky. The way the fort is shot is just one of the interesting pieces of cinematography, which creates some memorable visuals including characters framed by bars to symbolically represent their plights and a swordfight amongst bamboo where the lighting is from a fire and the moon.

The cast is fine throughout, particularly another standout turn from star Wakayama, but I particularly appreciated the performance by Tomoko Mayama, who this time takes over from  Nogawa to play the returning character Kagero.

The finale that the film has been building too – Ichibei, his comrades and the villagers defending their village at the fort is phenomenal. There’s a real mixture of weapons used from throughout the ages from a gatling gun to cannons, rifles to dynamite and, of course, swords. It’s masterfully executed and a fitting and blood-soaked finale to the entertaining midpoint in the series.


Eight Men to Kill

Director: Shigehiro Ozawa
Screenplay: Koji Takada
Starring: Tomisaburo Wakayama, Minoru Oki, Shigeru Amachi, Maki Kawamura, Tatsuo Endo, Kenji Imai, Taketoshi Naito
Country: Japan
Running time: 88 min
Year: 1972
BBFC certificate: 15

The finale of the trilogy again opens in fine fashion, this time a pre-titles bow and arrow, dynamite and sword assault on a convoy transporting gold, before Ichibei is given a dead or alive bounty that kicks the plot into motion.

The less serious, more playful tone returns for the finale, villains cackle, heads and limbs fly off in battle and the theatrics are dialled back up. There’s also the return of the duplicitous characters seen in the first, women in particular can rarely be trusted in this story. This means the plot features some twists and turns – though on a much smaller scale than the opening film of the series, but certainly plenty compared with a relatively straightforward and simple tale for The Fort of Death.

The camerawork is again interesting and one of the highlights of the trilogy for me, with each film having a number of stylish shots. This time we have a finale that flows from windswept strandoff to horse chase to a very quick battle pitting our hero against a mini army, all punctuated by close-ups of faces and eyes, those favourite shots of the Spaghetti Western directors. There’s also a standout visual sequence which intercuts a sex scene with period Japanese erotic paintings.

There’s as strong a Spaghetti western feel to this film as any of the others in the trilogy, camera zooms to close ups of eyes, a fun score, a windswept town and a final battle and horse chase that replaces guns with swords for the most part but feels like a fitting finale to a classic Western.


The Bounty Hunter Trilogy is released on a Region A and B limited edition double disc Blu-Ray boxset by Radiance Films on 25th March 2024. It can be purchased direct from Radiance Films at

Disc one contains Killer’s Mission and some extras, with disc two featuring the other two films and remaining extras.

The picture quality overall is excellent in all three films, with some of the gorgeous scenery and sunsets really shining through. The audio is also top notch, in a pleasing audio visual presentation of the trilogy.


High-Definition digital transfer of each film presented on two discs, made available on Blu-ray (1080p) for the first time in the world

Uncompressed mono PCM audio

Audio commentary on Killer’s Mission by Tom Mes

Interview with film historian and Shigehiro Ozawa expert Akihito Ito about the filmmaker

Visual essay on Eiichi Kudo by Japanese cinema expert Robin Gatto

Series poster and press image gallery


Optional English subtitles

Six postcards of artwork from the films

Reversible sleeves featuring artwork based on original posters

Limited edition booklet featuring new writing by samurai film expert Alain Silver, an obituary of Eiichi Kudo by Kinji Fukasaku and an interview piece on Shigehiro Ozawa after his retirement from filmmaking

Limited Edition of 3000 copies, presented in a rigid box with full-height Scanavo cases and removable OBI strip leaving packaging free of certificates and markings

Disc one opens with a typically information packed and thoroughly entertaining commentary from Tom Mes. He opens with some background to the setting of the film, followed by a fascinating overview of director Shigehiro Ozawa. Mes also looks at the influences and nods to other films and genres. This includes the non-Samurai-esque and very James Bond-style gadgets featured in the series, as well as the Spaghetti Western aspects. There’s a wealth of background to some of the actors in the series too. The film is a bit of a hodge podge when it comes to historical accuracy (guns from later periods are featured, for example) but Mes provides context to some of the real historical influences, including the exploration of Japan by the Dutch. There’s a look at the treatment of women in the film, the different tone between the second film and the others in the trilogy and much, much, much more. It really is a wonderful commentary that provides an excellent overview of the film, it’s influences, cast and crew.

Genre historian Akihito Ito also provides an informative 16 minute look at director Ozawa and his two films in the trilogy. It provides a great look at Japanese genre cinema of the 60s and 70s and particularly how Toei, the youngest of the country’s major studios, looked to simplify its films and make them easier to understand for the masses. Ito also explains how Ozawa always respected the budget and shooting schedule, which is why he was trusted, and how he knew what the audience wanted which is why he made around 80 films, including the celebrated Street Fighter trilogy with Sonny Chiba.  A great little piece.

Disc one closes out with an action packed three minute trailer.

Disc two begins with an 18 minute visual essay by samurai film connoisseur Robin Gatto who focuses on the second film in the trilogy and its director Eiichi Kudo. It features clips from some of Kudo’s other films and is an excellent introduction to the director.

We also get some gorgeous poster artwork and promotional stills in a gallery of almost 20 images, plus a three minute trailer each for the second and third films in the trilogy.

I wasn’t provided with the booklet but Radiance’s are usually at a very high standard and its reference a number of times in the commentary by Mes, which whetted my appetite for the background and context it will feature.

I had a great time with The Bounty Hunter Trilogy, three films I knew very little about, outside of the main star. Radiance continue to mine some very strong and, at times, lesser known titles from across the globe. Their presentation of the three films is excellent and they’re accompanied by some high quality informative extras, particularly a first class commentary by Tom Mes.


The Bounty Hunter Trilogy - Radiance Films
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Passionate about film, from the silents to the present day and everything in between, particularly 80s blockbusters, cult movies and Asian cinema.

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