Takashi Miike seems to be one of the few filmmakers in the world that can do absolutely whatever he wants. Although he is primarily known in the US as the shock renegade director of films like Ichi the Killer and Audition, he has incredible range — making musicals, kids films and thrillers. His latest film to arrive in the states, 13 Assassins, adds the classic samurai film to the list.
Miike might not be the first filmmaker you would think of to tackle such a classical film genre, but he stays true to its traditions while giving the film his own personal touches. Although I am not incredibly versed in his filmography, I have seen his most popular films, and it would be easy for me to assume that Miike is more interested in shocking his audience than with crafting a piece of art. 13 Assassins, however, truly stands up with the best of samurai films.
The film is set near the end of the time in feudal Japan when samurai roamed the country side looking for jobs to fulfill their honor. When the son of a former Shogun begins to overstep moral code, killing and raping at will, a group of thirteen samurai are hired to put an end to his massacres. Knowing that they would be outnumbered ten-fold, they seize the opportunity to die with honor before samurais become extinct.
Miike’s personal take on the old genre elevates the film above what we have come to expect with a samurai film, the violence and brutality add realism to the poetry. A political film at its heart, it has a lot to say about why peoples commit to wars and why individuals choose to fight them — questions that are as relevant today as they were in feudal Japan.
There are two particular things in 13 Assassins that completely work. First is the villain, who has to go down as one of the most evil characters in film history. Although there is always the sense that the young lord is really just a petulant, spoiled brat, he displays no semblance of humanity. To him, servants are meant to serve and then be killed and the act of taking a human life is completely thrilling. His acts of brutality are so gruesome and stone-faced that there is no word to describe him other than a monster.
The second is the epic action scene the film builds to — which lasts nearly an hour. There really is no other word besides “epic” that can be used to describe the battle which happens at the end of 13 Assassins. In the scope of action films, it has to be considered not only with the great action setpieces of the best samurai film ever made, Seven Samurai, but also with the likes of the Omaha Beach scene in Saving Private Ryan. Miike also lets us see the elements as they would exist — it is bloody (most samurai films are bloodless), muddy and sweaty. He also shoots many of the sword fights from a distance and with longer takes than American viewers typically get in action and fighting films. Ultimately, no matter what anyone thinks of the film’s slowly paced and nearly action-less first half, there is such a rush as the credits begin to roll that no one will leave unsatisfied.
13 Assassins beautifully blends classic elements of samurai films with new film aesthetics and a personal vision from a very capable filmmaker. No matter what you think of Miike’s work, this film shows that he is one of the most inventive and visceral directors working today and the film absolutely needs to be seen by anyone who loves action films and even to those who worship Kurosawa and Kobayashi won’t be disappointed.
My Best of 2012 Playlist by Eric Garneau
After being inspired by some friends, for the past few years I’ve been really into documenting my musical exploration with year-end mixes. I realize this is not a particularly novel thing to do, but hey, who has original ideas any more? Anyway, this has gotten even easier to do thanks to new technology like Spotify. read more