(No longer in theaters)
Minami Ichikawa, Tôichirô Shiraishi, Michihiko Yanagisawa
Apr 29, 2011
Among gore-hounds, genre nuts, and lovers of all that is deeply bizarre about Japanese cinema, Takashi Miike is a freaky godfather. The director of The Dead or Alive Trilogy, Ichi the Killer, and Audition–among scores of other films–works so much, in so many genres, that his work has been as scattered as blood splatter—both in quality and concept, style and substance. By the chaotic standards of his career, his vicious new samurai film, 13 Assassins, is focused, lean and mean, ending in a forty-odd minute battle sequence that’s among the most powerful of his career. The action begins in the twilight of Japan’s Shogunate era, with the sadistic lord Naritsugu, who, clad in good-guy white, rapes wives for fun, shoots arrows into the heads of children for sport, and makes a woman a sex slave after chopping off her limbs and tongue. He's not nice. So twelve honorable samurais and one dirt bag sociopath decide to take him down. A plot is hatched, katana blades are sharpened, and this magnificent thirteen attacks two hundred of the lord’s evil henchmen. In the final hour, Miike mostly plays down the comic gags that have inspired directors like Sam Raimi, and eschews the flashy, stylized blood geysers that has been adopted by Quentin Tarantino, favoring the ugly-pretty aesthetic at the core of the lo-fi gore of his early films. These honorable men realize the only way to win is to fight dirty, so they do. Samurais die unpoetic deaths. Nobody gives speeches. No individual kill is fetishized over another, or is as nastily choreographed as the hyperbolic violence in Miike's best-known films. It's all about quantity: There’s so much death! Thirty minutes in, you may be forgiven for uttering: Surely, the 200 bad guys have died by now, right? Please? When the last decapitated head has been kicked into the mud, any semblance of codified honor—the hoariest of Japanese action clichés—has been shredded, as easily as flesh.