http://youtu.be/_-IzbkXo7bo - trailer
A new film from Takashi Miike is always a reason for excitement for his many admirers around the world. This is, after all, the prolific Japanese director who since 1991 has given us Audition (1999), Ichi the Killer (2001), Gozu (2003) and Zatoichi (2007) amongst his seventy or so genre crossing film, video, stage and TV productions. 13 Assassins, a remake of Eiichi Kudo's 1963 Samurai epic of the same name, and loosely based on a real historical incident is magnificently realised by Miike and his cast and crew. Featuring one of the great screen villians of recent years, the terminally sadistic Lord Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki), jaw droppingly choreographed fight sequences and plenty of Miike's trademark ultra-violence, 13 Assassins is a blast of pure cinematic entertainment. Miike's masterful control of both action and narrative is fully on show in this film, from the slow burning set up to the explosion of sustained action that erupts, 13 Assassins further enhances Miike's already strong reputation as well as showing the Hollywood behemoths just how action films should be done.
The economic plot sees the trusted, veteran Samurai Shinzaemon (Koji Yakusho) secretly recruited by a government official to assassinate the current Shogun's brother, Lord Naritsugu, in order to stop his brutal rise to power. With his nephew Shinrouko (Takayuki Yamada) and ten other hired Samurai warriors, Shinzaemon sets out to lay a trap in the town of Ochiai for Lord Naritsugu as he travels, under heavy protection, cross country on official business. The thirteenth assassin comes in the shape of Koyata (Yusuke Iseya), a hunter found suspended in a cage as punishment for making amorous advances to his boss' wife. Koyata, a hybrid of Kikuchiyo from Kurosawa's Seven Samurai and a less annoying Jar Jar Binks, brings a small does of light comedic relief to the Operatic levels of violence and deadly serious political machinations that dominate 13 Assassins as well as providing an outsiders view into the intricate and intimate inner workings of the Samurai brotherhood. After putting all of the elements into place, including flachback scenes of vicious torture and murder implemented by the dead eyed, preturnaturally cruel Lord Naritsu, Miike unleashes an audacious orgy of action and bloodshed that at times beggars belief in its sheer ferocity and relentless pace. The town itself becomes a necessary part of the assassins' weaponry, outnumbered as they are by 13 to about 200 of Lord Naritsu's guards, as hastily constructed gates, walkways, explosives, traps and at one point a stampede of burning pigs(!) help to redress the balance of power as the ambushed guards are dispatched in wave after wave of stunningly executed set pieces.
Reaching a predictable but still satisfying climax, 13 Assassins delivers in spades, the Dirty Dozen-esque narrative drawing the viewer in firstly by laying down the backstory and then by pulling out of all of the stops in the film's final hour. I'm not an ardent fan of either action films per se or Samurai epics but 13 Assassins is impossible to resist such is its technical brilliance, innovative action sequences and sheer bloody minded effort to entertain. We're in June now and Miike's 13 Assassins is still the most fun I've had a cinema so far this year. A 'Total Massacre' indeed.