Thursday 5 May 2011


(Takashi Miike, 2010)

While 13 Assassins may well be Takashi Miike's most accessible and conventionally entertaining film, it is still quite firmly a Miike production. Which, given the generic stateliness of the material - this is the story of a motley band of Samurai assembled to kill the Shogun's gleefully evil step-brother before he gains any real power with which to damage Japan - makes it a fascinatingly complex and almost contradictory film. For while Miike dutifully details the political machinations and manoeuvring in the lead up to the attempted assassination and also records the preparations for the ambush, his interests seem to lie elsewhere: in the insane cruelty of his villain, murdering children, and raping and mutilating women out of pure boredom - the image of one damaged plaything, her limbs and tongue all cut off, writing a note with a brush in her bloody mouth seems inimitably Miike - but also in the digital photography vividly recreating the period he depicts and in introducing characters without any information or explanation.
The last reel of the film is one long, brutal, bloody battle scene as the 13 fight 200, and here Miike's desire to undercut the Samurai genre even as his film honours and reinvigorates it is at its most pronounced. He shoots these massively involved, complex action sequences With long lenses, visually flattening the action and robbing his scenes of any depth, an oddly undynamic way of shooting some fantastically dynamic action, it might seem. But as the finale goes on and on, an orgy of sword-slashing and blood spattering set to a Symphony of sword upon sword strikes, the action becomes repetitive and even a little comic in its grotesquely sustained brutality. Thus Miike can make a point about the senseless, deadening obscenity of such violence in the genre even while indulging in almost an uninterrupted hour of it.
And that hour is admittedly filled with numerous satisfying genre moments even while Miike seems to be teasing the Samurai film; he gives half of the 13 no discernible personalities, entirely disregards any sense of physical geography during the climax, films the death of a key character from the p.o.v of another, his view obscured and askew, dying nearby, utilises some shoddy cgi, ridiculously resuscitates a seemingly dead character without any explanation and literally portrays a rain of blood at one point. But there are also some fabulous shots and brilliantly choreographed sword fights, a few memorable deaths, and a satisfying, grim conclusion.
Closer to the Action-Samurai work of Kihaci Okamoto than that of Akira Kurosawa (to whom it's been often compared), 13 Assassins is a fine surprise from Miike at this point in his career and one of the best Samurai films of the last two decades.

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