Director: Takashi Miike
Starring: Kôji Yakusho, Gorô Inagaki
Run time: 141 minutes
This film is showing in York at City Screen. Click here for more information.
To glance back over Takashi Miike’s career in film is to subject oneself to some of the strangest, most disturbing scenes in cinema history. From fully grown humans giving birth to, well… fully grown humans (Gozu), to sliced off faces (Ichi the Killer), to catatonic lactating women (Visitor Q), one might wonder, after having directed over 70 productions, whether Miike’s well of perverse possibilities might be running dry.
13 Assassins sees the notorious director moving in new directions, and embracing a form which seems in some ways more mature than the twisted and bloody yakuza dramas he is most well-known for. Nonetheless it is a movie which shows us that Miike has certainly not lost his flair or identity as a director, despite this change in topic. Managing to seamlessly marry his taste for the bizarre with the established and structured jidaigeki form, he makes it his own, and injects life into the somewhat stagnant genre. The insertion of trademark Miike moments never jar with the overall tone of the movie, as one might be inclined to expect. Instead they often add a sense of (quite literally) dumb horror, or alternatively odd moments of comedy, which are distinctly refreshing.
However, unique as Miike’s quirks may be, one can hardly fail to notice the movie’s inevitable tie to its filmic ancestors; in particular the father of the genre, Akira Kurosawa. This is something which holds the movie back. Miike establishes a team of 13 samurai who will ambush the tyrannical Lord Naritsugu in order to restore peace to the realm, much in the same way as Kurosawa introduces his seven samurai, who seek to ambush bandits intent on pillaging a small village. 13 Assassins is even replete with a distinctly Kurosawan commentary on the arrogance of the samurai, and a bandit character who is a blatant cariacature of the wonderfully charismatic Kikuchiyo. It is perhaps this intertextuality which is one of 13 Assassins’ most unfortunate downfalls. Having almost twice as many samurai and almost half as much tension, viewers find themselves unwittingly making negative comparisons.
But make no mistakes about it 13 Assassins is a solid film in its own rite. When compared to Seven Samurai so many chanbara fall short, but this does make them any less valid as independant works of art. The slow pace 13 Assassins renders its long-awaited climax scintillating, as a brooding sense of tension is crafted over ninety minutes of conference and character development. The film ends on a blistering fifty minute battle scene where we see exploding cattle, fancy sword-play and perhaps most memorably, torrents of blood raining from the sky. Whilst the movie’s use of set-pieces, and the choreography of sword-fights is nothing less than spectacular, at thirty minutes in the scene begins to slow, the violence becomes saturating, and the dramatic effect of such gore inevitably begins to wane. This is unfortunate, as a basic issue of restraint compromises a denouement which begins to reek of squandered dramatic potential.