Live by the Sword, Die by the flaming livestock: 13 Assassins
Yesterday I attended a matinee of 13 Assassins, the new samurai flick by cult director Takashi Miike. Set at the end of feudal Japan, the movie jets along at a brisk pace, building towards a suitably crazy action setpiece. While obviously a higher-budget affair than some of Miike’s previous films (Ichi the Killer, Audition, Visitor Q), the film maintains his eye for cruelty and wicked sense of humor.
In the film, aging samurai Shinzaemon Shimada (Koji Yakusho) forms a band of samurai and ronin for an apparent suicide mission: kill the deranged Lord Matsudaira before he ascends to greater power and plunges the land into war. That’s pretty much it in the plot department. The first part of the movie revolves around assembling the team, and is relatively light in action. The latter part of the film more than makes up for it, though, with an epic 45 minute battle scene for the ages. Miike’s films usually involve a fair amount of violence, but this is the first film of his I’ve scene that tackles prolonged and intricate battle scenes.
The film has a rich texture, thanks to the nuanced cinematography of Nobuyasu Kita and the ensemble cast, who all seem to know when to hold back and when to properly bulge their eyes and scream bloody murder. The film is probably too heavy on the sword fighting for most foreign film buffs, but fans of samurai films and Miike films in general will not be disappointed.