Director Takashi Miike, the biggest name in Japanese cult cinema, returns with a faithful remake of the (somewhat) classic Toei samurai film 13 Assassins (1963). Koji Yakusho (a frequent response of mine when asked who my favorite actor is) stars as master swordsman Shinzaemon Shimada, one of many recently unemployed samurai who long for the war-torn years of the recent past. He gladly accepts a mission to murder a sadistic lord despite the impossibility of success for he is “a samurai in a peaceful era searching for an honorable death.” Shinzaemon quickly assembles the titular assassins Seven Samurai-style and they prepare an epic battle against hundreds of soldiers in an exhausting finale that lasts a full 45 minutes (15 minutes longer than that of the original).
Outside of a few self-indulgent moments of the bizarre that include a limbless nude female and a flaming pack of rampaging bulls, Miike’s adaptation is remarkably faithful to its source material. Unfortunately, like the original, the first half of the film is confusing and a bit of a bore. The relatively simple plot is complicated by historical details and a large cast of characters that are quite difficult to differentiate. It’s best to just sit back and wait for the nihilistic, expertly constructed finale, which is as good of an illustration of the burden of the samurai as any. I’d place it towards the low middle of Miike’s ever-growing oeuvre, but, in any case, it’s a real treat to see one of his films on the big screen (the first Philadelphia has shown [outside of festival screenings] since the Roxy hosted Gozu back in 2004, which, incidentally, is my favorite Miike film).
13 Assassins opens today at the Ritz at the Bourse.
Magnolia has an online press kit for 13 Assassins that features Miike’s eccentric thoughts on various aspects of the film and his career, here’s an excerpt that promises a future return to form:
BLOOD + VIOLENCE
Planning the amount of blood and violence in a film can only be decided by inevitability.
Not only for this film, but I always wish that there was no such thing as an alarm clock. If I’m late, I blame whoever invented the snooze function.
I love the act of shooting itself and I am always seeking something in which I can get absorbed. It’s like an addiction.
I may be chasing a dream that I might never accomplish. I find creative freedom through low budget projects. I seek out even more freedom through the experiences of making films like 13 ASSASSINS. And I think it’s about time to go wild once again!