13 Assassins (2010, directed by Takashi Miike) It has always been vaguely disappointing to be a Takashi Miike fan. No matter how many films he cranked out and how many different genres he tackled (or maybe because he cranked so many out and changed gears so often) the very best of his work seemed to just miss being truly great, and leave behind a feeling of an opportunity missed. Even Audition, the Miike movie considered to be the closest to perfection, has an ending that just seems deflating after the madness that precedes it. But Sukiyaki Western Django, Ichi the Killer, Happiness of the Katikuris, Dead Or Alive, One Missed Call, Great Yokai War... crazy fun as they are, each has some misstep or flaw that while certainly not fatal keep them from being a true masterpiece. Kind of like Megan Fox's thumbs. Which brings us to 13 Assassins, Miike's kick at the historical samurai epic can and a remake of a 1963 film. It's a natural fit for Miike's style, prone as he is to violent excess, but still... as the lights went down I couldn't quite shake that tiny voice in the back of my head, wondering where and how this one would go slightly awry. And when they came back up, you couldn't have wiped the smile from my face with Ichi's razor-heeled sneakers. Miike, that glorious son-of-a-bitch, had finally made a masterpiece. In the 1800s, towards the end of the Tokugawa era, the power of the samurai class is waning. The age of constant battles between daimyos is long over, and for the most part the samurai are warriors in name only. Naritsugu, the Shogun's younger brother, isn't satisfied with that peaceful state of affairs though. Twisted by the absolute privilege afforded him by his family name and station, he rapes and murders on a whim, and considers using his growing influence at court to plunge Japan back into chaos and war, so that the samurai can (in his mind) reclaim their former glory. Horrified by the lord's sadism and plans for country-wide bloodshed, a senior magistrate turns to the legendary Shinzaemon Shimada for help. Realizing that the only way to stop the young madman is to kill him, Shimada quietly assembles a team of 11 other samurai - all, in one way or another, unproven on the field of battle - to ambush the lord and his army of followers as he travels to the capitol to assume his place at his brother's right hand. To me, what sets 13 Assassins apart from every other film Miike has ever made (at least, the ones I've seen... watching every single Miike film would be a full-time job) is the pacing. For its first hour-plus, 13 Assassins is deliberate but not dull, mixing Shimada's planning and recruitment with scenes of Nagitsugu's utter depravity (plus a ritual seppuku or two from those who can't deal with the conflict between their honor and their morals) to create a textbook example of a slow build. Miike's quiet, almost stage-y interiors and lighting serve him very well here, giving things an ominous, conspiratorial tone. And this being Miike, those scenes of depravity are truly sick, and give Shimada's suicide mission an urgent, desperate tension. Naritsugu's use of a family of commoners (even the wee ones) for archery practice is vile, but it's the reveal of the lone survivor of a group that tried to thwart Naritsugu's will that marks the true high/low water mark of 13 Assassins' opening section. Emaciated, naked, all four limbs reduced to stumps and tongue torn out, the pitiful freak answers the question of what happened to her clan by writing the words 'TOTAL MASSACRE' with a brush clenched between her teeth while everyone else in the room (and, frankly, out in the audience too) trembles in shock and impotent rage. And when Shimada holds that same scrawled 'TOTAL MASSACRE' message aloft at the beginning of his battle against Naritsugu's forces, you'd have to be a sociopath not to want to jump up and shout "That's right, you sick fuck! Time to fucking DIE!" at the screen. Oh right, the battle. The 45 minute long, non-stop, insanely intense, heroes fighting against impossible odds, katana and bow and flaming bull (yes, you read that right, there are flaming bulls)-filled orgy of blood and death and mayhem that caps the film. Sweet Mother of God. When I say "45 minutes" and "non-stop" I'm not exaggerating. About the only recent film I can think of to compare 13 Assassins' epic battle to is the little-seen Thai bit of genius Bang Rajan, which is basically nothing but battle scenes with bits of character development thrown in the middle, but while Bang Rajan is a low-budget effort that gets by on tons of heart and creativity, 13 Assassins is as polished a film as Miike has ever made, with the same tons of heart and creativity (again, there are FLAMING BULLS). The battle is just an outstanding, exhausting, exhilarating thing of gory beauty, which is made all the more sublime by the slow build that precedes it, and the investment you have in the characters and the outcome. I have been waiting... man, when was Fudoh: The New Generation at TIFF, '96? '97?... almost 15 years for this movie, for Miike to finally put it all together and deliver the masterpiece he kept hinting that he was capable of. And now it's finally here, and it's made me just a little bit giddy. To say it's the best thing Miike's ever done almost misses the point. It would be the best thing all but the greatest of directors have ever done. It's just an insanely wonderful, kick-ass piece of cinema. And as samurai films go, 13 Assassins deserves a spot in the canon, right alongside the best work that Kurosawa and Mifune ever created. It's that damn good. Follow me on Twitter, if ye dare!
Sept. 28, 2010, 3:35 a.m. CST
by frank cotton
Sept. 28, 2010, 3:45 a.m. CST
Anton, this is right up there with the best of Kurosawa?<p> On one hand it sounds great. I'm all for gory exciting battle scenes - but on the other hand it sounds repulsive.<p> Kurosawa, David Lean, Steven Speilberg and other great epic directors managed to make the audiences engage with the heroes and boo the baddies without having to show children being gratuitously murdered and other scenes of 'utter depravity' that you mention.<p> That kind of torture porn shit actually puts me off seeing the movie - and it will MASSIVELY limit the films potential audience and profit margin.<p> Of course you'll say, this is what Miike is all about. Yes it is. And that is why he'll never be a Kurosawa.
Sept. 28, 2010, 3:49 a.m. CST
The only thing these two have in common is that they're both Japanese filmmakers. That is it. Kurosawa's films are held in the same regard with some of the best films of all time. His films are up there with Casablanca, Lawrence of Arabia, shit like that. Miike for the most part makes "arthouse" (AKA Japanese) slasher flicks with extra gore. No disrespect to Miike, but we're talking apples and oranges here.
Sept. 28, 2010, 3:57 a.m. CST
these sites are a goddamn joke. all the writers are surely under 30.
Sept. 28, 2010, 3:59 a.m. CST
Why does it feel like you people don't watch movies?
Sept. 28, 2010, 4:37 a.m. CST
by Hardboiled Wonderland
Anton Sirius needs his four limps reduced to stumps and his tongue torn out. Seriously, give me a fucking break. Kurosawa had class, he didn't depend on shock violence. Kurosawa is gentlemanly ART -- Miike is an adolescent who still jerks off to GoGo in Kill Bill.
Sept. 28, 2010, 4:44 a.m. CST
by Anything But Tangerines
His best films are made to be CONTEMPLATED rather than consumed. Few directors in history have approached his artistic mastery of film and only one has come close to equaling it. I'd entertain comparisons to a select few working directors, but to pinch out a name like Takashi Miike and expect it to float is ludicrous.
Sept. 28, 2010, 5:39 a.m. CST
Here in the north 'o Japan and I see an 8:30pm showing. Although I am in THE FUTURE that still gives me an hour, so I might go and check it out. Oh, and the rating for this film over here? PG12. Now try and align that with what this guy just said about it.
Sept. 28, 2010, 6:26 a.m. CST
like Dreams, but did make stuff like Hostel 2? The review makes it sound more like an Eli Roth version of The Last Samurai.
Sept. 28, 2010, 7:05 a.m. CST
It is unnecessarily grotesque in parts, but in terms of the slow build and horrific ending, it's a massive surprise after the other films I'd seen of his. Not sure how his filmmaking approach could ever be compared to Kurosawa as we're talking about everything from performance, editing and composition, and I don't see any sign of that evolution in Miike. Maybe his deranged siamese twin.
Sept. 28, 2010, 7:32 a.m. CST
Count me in! Love most everything he does post Shinjuku Triad Society, flaws and all. This sounds fantastic. Knew the Kurosawa comparison would draw alot of ire in the talkbacks all the same.
Sept. 28, 2010, 7:49 a.m. CST
I saw the movie at TIFF and agree with Anton. You guys should actually see the film before you begin attacking his Kurosawa comparison. It'll give your comments a lot more merit.
Sept. 28, 2010, 7:58 a.m. CST
What, pray tell, is the connection to Kurosawa? The use of samurai? Well congratulations, you've just made the least informative comparison ever!
Sept. 28, 2010, 7:59 a.m. CST
I've always been wary of Miike films. I'm not much of a fan of torture-porn (done right, it's compelling stuff, but very few directors have done it right). But this sounds like one I'm going to have to track down. I'm a Kurosawa junkie, but I know what style he's talking about here - this isn't going to be "old man on a swing" stuff (and IKIRU is what I consider to be Kurosawa's best film, but everyone loves SEVEN SAMURAI).
Sept. 28, 2010, 8:27 a.m. CST
@OldMikeyJ has it right. Watch the movie and the comparison to Kurosawa will become clear. Yes, that torture scene is extreme, but think about how bad a dude the villain needs to be to watch him and his army get owned for 45 STRAIGHT (awesome) MINUTES. You have to be hating on the guy pretty hard to endure that, and you do. The torture is in the name of earning that fight scene, and it works brilliantly. Just watch the film and judge after. One of the best samurai flicks I've seen. Period.
Sept. 28, 2010, 8:31 a.m. CST
I am black, you are white. I am coffee, you are milk. We will always complement each other. _ B l a c k w h i t e C u p i d * C 0 m _ You may have a try... ;)
Sept. 28, 2010, 9:41 a.m. CST
Kurosawa handled violence with the utmost restraint. This sounds more like a samurai film by Peckinpah--The Wild Bunch with swords and arrows. (And bulls, apparently.)
Sept. 28, 2010, 10:05 a.m. CST
His movies are always worth a watch. Damn fine director. One of the top best working today for sure.
Sept. 28, 2010, 10:07 a.m. CST
"I'd all but dismissed Miike until Audition"<br><br>Even the DEAD OR ALIVE movies?
Sept. 28, 2010, 10:24 a.m. CST
That is all.
Sept. 28, 2010, 10:52 a.m. CST
Thats the only thing that makes sense here.
Sept. 28, 2010, 10:54 a.m. CST
That sounds about right.
Sept. 28, 2010, 11:28 a.m. CST
I love Miike, but he's not as good as Kurosawa. I think he's closer to David Lynch. Also: I CAN'T WAIT TO SEE THIS MOVIE!
Sept. 28, 2010, 12:44 p.m. CST
Fudoh is silly when you rewatch it. <P> Then there are the 10000 other movies he's done. Some are good and some really do outright suck. I'm glad this is one of the good ones.
Sept. 28, 2010, 1:27 p.m. CST
Just another vacuous comparison by movie geeks with no depth of cultural or cinematic knowledge. What, they're both Japanese and have films featuring samurai? They must be twins!
Sept. 28, 2010, 7:46 p.m. CST
because I've never seen such a backlash as the one here to his ridiculous Kurosawa comparison. Mission accomplished!
Sept. 28, 2010, 7:49 p.m. CST
Sept. 28, 2010, 7:57 p.m. CST
Listen to the Michael Jeck commentary on the Criterion Collection release of the Seven Samurai. Shot-by-shot explanation of Kurosawa's innovations which will teach you more in 3 hours than a year of film school classes.<p>In terms of the quality of his films, as well as the way he pioneered modern filmmaking, Kurosawa is really in a class by himself.
Sept. 28, 2010, 8:41 p.m. CST
by reise reise
The only commenters here who have actually seen the movie are also in agreement with this review. Miike may not be the most consistent director, but a number of his films display obvious filmmaking talent that goes beyond shock tactics and gore, like "Audition," "Big Bang Love Jevenile A," and his short film "The Box." Creating a truly great samurai movie is hardly out of his reach.
Sept. 28, 2010, 9:37 p.m. CST
by Anything But Tangerines
LYNCH is a GOD