Who has made over 80 films in the past 10 years? The one and only Takashi Miike, that who. A group of assassins taking on over 200 guards and a final battle that takes up a third of the film’s running time is the end result of straight bad assery known as 13 Assassins. Set around 1844, this classic samurai genre film portrays bored samurai who finally get to see some action as Naritsugu, the films villian, is trying to obtain absolute power and goes on a killing spree.
This film is very mature for a Miike film and after his last few outing I have to admit I wasn’t really looking forward to this particular film. Even the suicide ritual of hari-kari was portrayed well as well as the different class attitudes. They prepare a small town in the mountains for Lord Naritsugu’s 200-strong entourage to pass by and then the choas ensues. Of course these are ridiculous odds, and of course in reality they would never win. But who cares? Miike and editor Kenji Yamashita strike a judicious balance between closeups and long camera shots.
The end battle is an absolute thrill-ride. I didn’t know this beforehand, but this film is a remake of a 1963 film of the same name by Eichi Kudo except this time around it has a bigger budget. I have to give Miike a pat on the back for offering mainstream audiences an earnest look at vintage Samurai cinema. And as a huge Kurosawa fan, I really don’t say that lightly. It is curious to see Miike do something so straight-forward and crowd pleasing. The cast is truly star galore with some of the biggest names in Japanese acting, and experienced supporting actors. All of which do a terrific job.
13 Assassins is not only the most accomplished and polished film of Takashi Miike’s career, it is also the best film I have watched so far at the Fantastic Film Festival. Yes, the film builds to the assassination which involves less of the precision that term implies than a self-annihilating bloodbath, but the theatre rocked with explosions and with the sounds of blades cutting flesh and was only drowned out by the consistent audience applause in appreciation. The movie brings out the best of a dying samurai era, with the key conflict for some to decide between duty and right. Miike deftly moves between moments of great battles, to one-on-one fights, all neatly wrapped up into a film that is entertaining on all cylinders. Bravo.