Tuesday, August 14, 2012

13 Assassins. A

Takashi Miike is a filmmaker with such diverse interests (he's a renowned master of violence, yes, but he's also the guy who directed Ninja Kids) that I really had no idea what he would bring to the table for his samurai epic 13 Assassins. My initial expectation was something along the lines of Tarantino, in which genre trends are placed front and center only to be turned upside down by something entirely unexpected. That's not a difficult task with the samurai genre, and in a way  QT already did it with Kill Bill. But 13 Assassins ends up being far closer to the films Tarantino would look to for inspiration rather than Tarantino films themselves. Miike, despite the expected infusion of graphic violence here, is crafting a very old fashioned Samurai adventure story, very much in line with the work of Akira Kurosawa. His style is not flair, but classical form, namely his devotion to beguiling yet controlled camera compositions that Kurosawa is known for. Motion is never slowed or sped up for stylized effect, and the blood does not spray across the screen as it does in Miike's contemporaries' work, but flows from the samurai's flesh as it would have hundreds of years ago. Miike also has fun with old fashioned adventure movie conventions, such as the comically energetic hunter who joins the crew, or the 200 evil soldiers at the end who seem to have be as aware of battle logic as the storm troopers in Star Wars. And really the story is the stuff of legend, meant tot evoke not only Kurosawa's samurai films, but also, I assume, classic Hollywood Westerns. As the title informs us, there are 13 assassins, all trained samurai warriors (except for the aforementioned hunter who officially joins the crew at the end) who band together to kill a young lord, the sadistic Nartisugu. Miike goes to great length to establish him as a monster, perhaps worse than any screen villain in history. Some of his actions are disturbing and presented in graphic detail, yet Miike is wise in doing so because it poses Nartisugu as real threat and makes the viewer eagerly await his death all the more. 13 Assassins is the great modern samurai movie, a film that reminds us that after important work of Kurosawa, there is still room for legends to be born. In an age where action movies have essentially given way to exploiting the genre's assets, Miike has respected the tradition of his predecessors by developing characters around moral tensions, and necessitating violence as a result of uncanny evil.                                            

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