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Takashi Miike And Mr. Beaks Talk 13 ASSASSINS!

Though it's been available on VOD for the last month, I know a number of people who held off watching Takashi Miike's 13 ASSASSINS until they could see the widescreen epic on the big screen. Their wait will be richly - and bloodily - rewarded this weekend, as Miike's samurai masterpiece hits select theaters across the United States. Total. Fucking. Massacre.

It's absurd that a film this big and entertaining is going out in limited release, but this is the way it's always been for chanbara flicks in the U.S. (even Kurosawa's). It's a shame, too, because 13 ASSASSINS is not only Miike's most accessible film to date, it's also his best since AUDITION. Having turned fifty last year, Miike is smack dab in the middle of what is typically a filmmaker's prime - and I'd selfishly love to see widespread international success encourage the madly prolific director to focus on one movie at a time while he's dialed-in like this.

We'll have to wait and see if Miike feels like changing it up over the next decade (I'm not expecting the same degree of restraint from Miike's next film, the amusingly exclamatory NINJA KIDS!!!). For now, let's celebrate what we've got: a samurai-on-a-mission movie that compares favorably to the best swordsman yarns spun by masters like Kobayashi, Kudo and even Kurosawa. When I Skyped with Miike a couple of weeks ago (via translator, which is why the below interview is so short), I was keen to find out if he approached 13 ASSASSINS differently from his many other films. This is an unavoidably formal interview (it's hard to get conversational in this kind of setting), but Miike's answers - particularly his explanation for why her prefers actors with little-to-no weapons training - are illuminating.

Mr. Beaks: How familiar were you with the original film before taking on the remake? Is it popular in Japan? It's pretty much unknown in America.

Takashi Miike: When I was asked to remake the movie, I had heard of the title, but I had not seen the movie. The movie was released when I was three years old. I would say that probably anyone under sixty in Japan hasn't seen the movie. It's not a popular movie. But when I saw the movie, what I felt was the quality of it, and how well it was made. Beyond that, what I felt was the extreme desire, the power of the people who made this movie. Not an individual passion, but the [overall] passion that the people at that time had for making movies, that the studios had for making movies - their ability and their power to make movies. I noticed how much we've lost in our ability to make movies, and I thought it would be a good time for a full-frontal attack on how to get that back.

Beaks: 13 ASSASSINS is different aesthetically from most of your movies. Was your approach to this film different from the others?

Miike: What it comes from, essentially, this different approach... we're talking about samurai, we're talking about warriors - people whose job it was to fight other people. That was their raison d'etre. Their self-worth came out of that. But then peace comes to the nation: they lose their place in society, and they are reduced to being politicians; the fact that they carry swords that are meaningless. So I decided we couldn't be free in our approach; it became necessary to take a more orthodox approach, and that comes out in the film. Other people, when they're making a samurai movie nowadays, will use lots of computer graphics for the action scenes or to heighten the effects on the wardrobe. They'll even change the values of the characters to meet a modern-day audience better by adding a love story or whatever. We didn't do that. We tried to stick true to form, and that's why it was so orthodox.

Beaks: How involved was producer Jeremy Thomas. He's got a rather impressive track record, having worked with Bernardo Bertolucci for so many years.

Miike: At the time this project came along, I was working with Jeremy on doing a different project, which is actually a samurai drama as well. We were moving along with that script, and things didn't happen. Then this project came along, and Jeremy decided to be involved in this one instead. So as soon as we had a script, we were able to get input from him. As a producer, what I appreciate most about Jeremy is that he was able to guard me from the Japanese investors; he allowed me to make the movie I wanted to make in the environment I normally make movies. When we finished the first edit, we showed it to him and got his opinion, but I just really appreciate the way he allowed me to realize my vision and guard me from people telling me what to do.

Beaks: The final battle sequence is magnificent. How much planning went into it? Did you pre-vis or storyboard? And how long did it take to shoot?

Miike: In general, the filming was about three weeks for the action, including all the horse scenes. But the fact that we ran into quite a bit of bad weather where we were, it was really more like a period of two weeks, and it was quite hard on our physical bodies, because it was pretty much the limit to what we could stand with the number of long hours back to back.
And when we say "two weeks" in Japan, we mean seven continuous days; we don't mean five days on and two days off like you have in L.A. Eighteen-hour days, back-to-back, no golden time, no union, etc. But the good thing about this short period of time is the real situation affected the actors in a sense that helped make the movie. They were fighting for their lives not only as characters, but as actors with their backs against the wall with the short time period we had. Since we used no CG, and with action people... written words don't really help, and using storyboards don't really help. The best thing to do is to try the action, see how it goes, and make the changes there. I guess our storyboards was just the action itself, which would change on set.

Beaks: How proficient were the actors with their weapons?

            

Miike: For the thirteen assassin actors, over half of them were doing action scenes with a sword for the first time, but in the end it turned out to be quite a great effect. They were completely worried; they felt apprehension in this. But then they became completely dedicated to their path to try to master the sword - until the point where they couldn't even stand anymore, they were practicing so much. That really matched the characters in the actual situation they were portraying. If the actors had been skilled from the beginning, and had been in several samurai movies before, the way they approached the action would've been different; they probably would've ended up being something they were doing to look good or be beautiful, or to fall into the trappings of the stereotypical form that they had. But since they had no experience, they were essentially treading into the unknown, and I kind of appreciated the sense of treading into the unknown - that is where you'll find the real gems in filmmaking.

Beaks: So what do you plan to do next?

Miike: [I've] got two films. One is a crazy Ninja kids film, where kids at a ninja school go crazy and go on a rampage. (Laughs)

Unless this is the greatest movie year ever, 13 ASSASSINS is a lock for my 2011 top ten list. If it's playing anywhere near you, please get out and see it this weekend.

Faithfully submitted,

Mr. Beaks

Readers Talkback
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  • April 28, 2011, 1:03 p.m. CST

    Nice interview, Devin.

    by THE_CHOPPAH_STRIKES_BACK

  • April 28, 2011, 1:15 p.m. CST

    NEEYEEEAAARRRGGGGHHHHH

    by 8 Diagram Pole Fighter

  • April 28, 2011, 1:15 p.m. CST

    NEEYEEEAAARRRGGGGHHHHH!

    by BSB

  • April 28, 2011, 1:15 p.m. CST

    NEEYEEEAAARRRGGGGHHHHH!!

    by 8 Diagram Pole Fighter

  • April 28, 2011, 1:16 p.m. CST

    NEEYEEEAAARRRGGGGHHHHH!!!

    by BSB

  • April 28, 2011, 1:16 p.m. CST

    NEEYEEEAAARRRGGGGHHHHH!!!!

    by 8 Diagram Pole Fighter

  • April 28, 2011, 1:16 p.m. CST

    NEEYEEEAAARRRGGGGHHHHH!!!!!

    by BSB

  • April 28, 2011, 1:16 p.m. CST

    NEEYEEEAAARRRGGGGHHHHH!!!!!!

    by 8 Diagram Pole Fighter

  • April 28, 2011, 1:16 p.m. CST

    NEEYEEEAAARRRGGGGHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    by BSB

  • April 28, 2011, 1:16 p.m. CST

    YOU WIN.

    by 8 Diagram Pole Fighter

  • April 28, 2011, 1:20 p.m. CST

    Ugh. I have to wait another month...

    by Rhuragh

    ...before this opens in Chicago. The third largest city/metropolitan area in the US, and it still doesn't open for another month. Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!

  • April 28, 2011, 1:23 p.m. CST

    Oh wait, that's not so bad after all.

    by Rhuragh

    See, I'm taking Friday May 27th off anyway because that's opening day for Malick's The Tree of Life. So, that Friday will actually be pretty glorious. I'll get to see The Tree of Life AND 13 Assassins. That actually sounds pretty fucking good.

  • April 28, 2011, 1:31 p.m. CST

    Ihara Tsuyoshi is the samurai Clint Eastwood!

    by konkrete590

    This movie kicks serious ass and can't wait to see it again on the big screen!

  • April 28, 2011, 2:07 p.m. CST

    So pumped! but I have to wait until 5/20 in SF :(

    by bottombrick

    Love Miike interviews, he has an in depth and revealing interview on almost every movie of his that I have acquired or rented. That's like 20 or 30 movies

  • April 28, 2011, 2:14 p.m. CST

    NEEYAAAARGGGHHHHH!!!!!!!

    by uppercut

  • April 28, 2011, 2:34 p.m. CST

    The Tree of Life and 13 Assassins in the same friday. AWESOME!!

    by AsimovLives

    rhuragh, i envy you.

  • April 28, 2011, 2:34 p.m. CST

    FLAMING BULLS!

    by UGG

    Great movie.

  • April 28, 2011, 2:39 p.m. CST

    Beaks doesn't deserve to be in the same Skype room with Miike San

    by THAT_SAID_THE_CHOPPAH

  • April 28, 2011, 2:44 p.m. CST

    I literally can't wait...

    by carlotta_valdes

    ...I missed it at a local film festival last week (sold out with folding chairs in the back), an it's not showing in regular theaters here until June...so I'm watching on demand tonight (the last vod night). I'm not a philistine...just very desperate at this point to see this.

  • April 28, 2011, 3:45 p.m. CST

    Shouldn't this interview

    by 2LeggedFreak

    have been done by AICN's resident Ninja @?

  • April 28, 2011, 4:19 p.m. CST

    carlotta_valdes, asimovlives

    by Rhuragh

    Carlotta, whoa, 13 Assassins isn't going to be available on VOD after tonight? That sucks. Are you sure about that? Asimov, yeah, I'm still disappointed I won't get to see it this weekend (but hey, at least I get Incendies this weekend!), but a double-bill of that magnitude is pretty good consolation.

  • April 28, 2011, 4:21 p.m. CST

    Love that picture of Miike!

    by fustfick

    He looks badass in that tux. But there's no way this is his best movie since "Audition." While "Audition" is absolutely 100% fucking awesome...I find both "Izo" and "Gozu" to be superior films. Long live Takashi Miike!

  • April 28, 2011, 5:06 p.m. CST

    Absolute masterpiece

    by dapaschad

    I had the pleasure of seeing the extended Japanese cut at the Rotterdam Filmfest in January, had the best time with it. The non-stop 45+ minute fight sequence has to be seen to be believed, it's pure classic bad-ass epic samurai cinema that is just stunning to experience. Not a single boring or unnecessary moment in this film. Go see it big screen if you have the chance!

  • April 28, 2011, 5:33 p.m. CST

    rhuragh, 'vod'...

    by carlotta_valdes

    ...ends tonight if you're on comcast, I know for sure. Not sure if that applies universally, but would make sense since the slow national release begins tomorrow. I'll do some checking...

  • April 28, 2011, 5:52 p.m. CST

    I've never seen Miike without his sunglasses on before.

    by MaxTheSilent

    Very odd.

  • April 28, 2011, 6:43 p.m. CST

    Nice

    by j_difool

    There hasn't been SHIT to go see in the theaters for months, so I think I'll check this out. Miike can be divisive to viewers, BUT Audition is NOT his best film by any stretch. C'mon ! Personally, I go with Ichi the Killer. Dead or Alive 1&2 are somewhere in the top as well. And let't not forget Bird People of China. Audition is somewhere after that, and YOU'RE NO FAN OF CINEMA if you disagree. Got it?

  • April 28, 2011, 7:34 p.m. CST

    Seeing this tommorrow!

    by Raymar

  • April 28, 2011, 8:29 p.m. CST

    this movie fucking blows... it's a samurai movie for idiots

    by HaterofCrap

    none of the 13 have any real distinguishing characteristics in terms of style, personality, or anything. and the longass final fight scene is complete nonsense.. and the villain is a big stupid.

  • What did they cut?

  • April 28, 2011, 9:59 p.m. CST

    Seen the Japanese version..its awesome and brutal

    by quantize

    .

  • April 28, 2011, 10 p.m. CST

    'this movie fucking blows... it's a samurai movie for idiots

    by quantize

    then everyone who sees this and loves it will immediately realise (if they can be faintly bothered) that you have totally fucking shit taste.

  • April 28, 2011, 10:01 p.m. CST

    'longass final fight scene is complete nonsense'

    by quantize

    Then you're either ignorant or fucking stupid and are unfamiliar with such films dating all the way back to the 50's and 60's

  • April 28, 2011, 10:02 p.m. CST

    haterofcrap = haterofcoolshit

    by quantize

    clearly, otherwise only a fuckwit would troll a thread slagging a genuinely cool film

  • April 28, 2011, 11:58 p.m. CST

    (SMALL SPOILERS) just finished it on 'vod'...

    by carlotta_valdes

    Loved the characters, the buildup, the final battle and Loved the lack of sentimentality. HATED FAKE 'Kikuchiyo' (Toshirô Mifune's character in Seven Samurai)...and clearly he must be some form of woodland spirit or something, cause he ain't human! Still gonna support this on the big screen in June when it gets here, and hope I get a chance to check out the Japanese version someday. ...flaming bad cgi cows are funny.

  • April 29, 2011, 12:13 a.m. CST

    (Small Spoilers)...and I'd love to see a film...

    by carlotta_valdes

    ...just concerning Hirayama the Ronin's ten year 'path of the sword'. "There are no big or small tasks, All are equally important."

  • April 29, 2011, 1:10 a.m. CST

    Anyone who has seen the US one...

    by AndoSoundsLikeAMong

    I am assuming, from not having seen the scene mentioned at all and now hearing that there were cuts, that the rape / buggery comedy scene has been taken out. Anyone confirm this? If you've seen the film and don't know what I am talking about, trust me, it is gone.

  • sun moon earth

  • April 29, 2011, 3:04 a.m. CST

    fustfick

    by AsimovLives

    Long Live Takeshi Miike indeed. I haven't seen Izo yet, but GOZU is completly bonkers insane, and so awesome for it. God i love that movie. But, to tell you the truth, i'm very particular to ICHI and AUDIOTION, and the DEAD OR ALIVE movies are also pretty awesome.

  • April 29, 2011, 3:08 a.m. CST

    quantize

    by AsimovLives

    Being on the same side for a moment, i don't even need to watch 13 SAMURAI to realise that anybody who says the movie blows is just... well, not that smart. It's Takashi miike, and that suffices. When Miike fails, which he very rarely does, he fails interestingly. That's talent. Can't wait t watch this movie.

  • April 29, 2011, 3:10 a.m. CST

    carlotta_valdes

    by AsimovLives

    "There are no big or small tasks, All are equally important." That reminds me a line from the excelent GHOST DOG: it goes something like this: "Treat important things like they are unimportant and unimportant things like they are important". Very zen stuff.

  • April 29, 2011, 3:12 a.m. CST

    Well said, asimovlives.

    by jrb

    I'm going to see it this weekend. Still curious what the 20 minutes supposedly cut from the Japanese release version of the film contain.

  • April 29, 2011, 4:09 a.m. CST

    Content of missing 20 mins...

    by AndoSoundsLikeAMong

    If someone confirms the comedy buggery is gone then I will describe the scene here. I'm pretty sure that scene would have garnered a mention by some crticis, especially the few who gaves it negative reviews, but I'm still yet to see it mentioned...

  • April 29, 2011, 9:15 a.m. CST

    so tempted to watch on demand, but staying strong

    by antonphd

  • April 29, 2011, 9:46 a.m. CST

    (small spoilers) andosonundslikeamong...

    by carlotta_valdes

    ...implied rape (before and after effects), but the scene must be cut out of the U.S. version...still some awful stuff IS shown to get across why the 'target' needs to be put down. I'd say about 7 of the 13 are given iconic treatment, while the rest are pretty interchangeable. Most likely that isn't the case with the longer version. It's a tough challenge to develop that many characters in a short format while still servicing the story...same problem Peter Jackson's dealing with right now, and I wish him well. 13 dwarves vs 13 assassins!...I'll tell you right now, the assassins win. ...and asimovlives, nice line.

  • April 29, 2011, 10:24 a.m. CST

    carlotta_valdes - Missing scene...

    by AndoSoundsLikeAMong

    Well from you thinking it was that scene I'm pretty sure it has gone, but let me clarify a little... I'm talking about the "comedy" buggery that occurs just before the big battle. If that doesn't ring any bells then it must be gone. I'll outline it here anyway, just in case... <spoilers for Japanese / maybe? US version> So there's that wild guy who they pick up in the mountains. Once they reach the village, the night before the battle, he fucks his way through every woman left behind. He comes out of his hut with all these naked women lying exhausted on the ground, and the mayor says to him "Please, there are no women left." Then the mayor see's the guy's cock and is like, "It's huge!" He recoils in terror, but... The guy looks at the mayor with a twinkle in his eye, and yes, the next scene is the Mayor getting in the ass. Hard to put it on the same level as Seven Samurai after that. I'm not saying one moment can define, for better or worse, an entire film, but all these months after seeing the film my recollection of the big battle is hazy... but I clearly recall the butt-fuck rape played for laughs.

  • April 29, 2011, 10:35 a.m. CST

    Played on HDnet movies the other night...

    by SAILOR_RIPLEY

    I taped it not even knowing it was a Miike film. Can't wait to watch it this weekend.

  • April 29, 2011, 11:21 a.m. CST

    (spoilers) yeah andosonundslikeamong...

    by carlotta_valdes

    ...that's all been cut, clearly a good artistic choice based on your decription. You don't really get a sense of any of the townspeople in the US version (except for little naked boy when the soldiers come...he makes an impact. They're more like backdrop, and strangely...completely disappear once the battle begins. The only positive that the scene would have I think, is to separate woodsman guy from Kikuchiyo (Toshirô Mifune's character in Seven Samurai) ...as edited, he just comes off as FAKE 'Kikuchiyo' and is the only negative distraction in an otherwise great flick. So what's your take on him andosonundslikeamong? ...is he some magical, interfering woodland spirit or just a ghost at the end?

  • April 29, 2011, 11:33 a.m. CST

    New star wars prequel movies - a what if question

    by HewligansHaircut

    So, here's a thought. If George Lucas was to report that he was going to remake the prequels, taking into account how bad the original prequels were. That he was going to totally throw any story, character or structure away and start again, would the people of aicn be happy, sad or just wary of these new films? What do you think? Would you give him a second chance to try again?

  • April 30, 2011, 7:39 p.m. CST

    Not surprised it is gone...

    by AndoSoundsLikeAMong

    Thanks for confirming that. It's kinda wierd, because I simply have no frame of reference for homosexual rape used as a punchline in a movie... is it going too far? Does it degrade the rest of the film? I would definitely be interested to see what the critics who are calling it a modern classic woud say after seeing this scene, however. Not necessarily becaue I think they are wrong or I want them to change their opinions, but they aren't talking about the version that Miike decided to put out there. He wanted this scene in the film, obviously. If my description didn't get it across, it is very much played as a joke. A little "light hearted" leivty before the battle itself. [Spoilers] As to your question... I think, at least in the Japanese film, there's not (much?) question that the guy is just some super hard nutter who lives in the forest. With the above scene and the scenes when he joins them he stands out a great deal from the others, and I didn't want him to croak; having said that, there doesn't seem to be any possible way he could still be alive at the end, but he is, and that's (likely) just a way to give the audience something to be glad about. Also, perhaps with that scene missing it isn't as strong, but he is fucking all those people to try and placte his obsession with the woman, his dalliance with whom got him kicked out of his group in the mountains - so he has a very real storyline, focused on someone who (presumably) exists. This definitely syphons off hints that he might not be human. I hope you get a chance to see the full version and make your own call on it, anyway!

  • May 1, 2011, 11:32 a.m. CST

    Can't Wait

    by Jeff

    Everything I've read about this film has been glowingly positive, so I can't wait to see it. And no CG? Wow. Nicely done, Mr. Miike! Good interview, Beaks. Thanks.

  • May 1, 2011, 4:47 p.m. CST

    13 Assassins.... hmmmm

    by oldnik

    Don't get too excited folks! While it's an enjoyable romp thru a multitude of Samurai movie cliches, homages & rip-offs, it's no "Modern Classic" or, as some ass wipe reviewer quoted on the UK poster said "One of the best Samurai movies ever made"!!! Firstly, there's too many one dimensional characters, only a few really stand out in the mind after the credits have rolled, 2ndly, the cinematography is too flat and made for TV looking, if he really wanted to make a classic by homaging the past greats he could have shot it in glorious monochrome, or dirtied it up and saturated the look instead of what we got. 3rdly, if you are going to make a period Samurai movie, don't blatantly rip-off 7 Samurai...... Anyway, I'm off to watch Sword of Doom, now that IS a classic....

  • May 1, 2011, 10:32 p.m. CST

    I wrote a CHARACTER called MIKEY MIIKE....in a SLASHER...

    by KHjLL

  • May 1, 2011, 10:32 p.m. CST

    Also has a Samurai Sword...

    by KHjLL

  • May 1, 2011, 10:34 p.m. CST

    I'd cut my left TRIGGER FINGER...

    by KHjLL

    ...if TAKASHI MIIKE read my 4 SLASHER/GHOST FILMS and my WESTERN...

  • May 1, 2011, 10:37 p.m. CST

    Almost CUT IT OFF...

    by KHjLL

    ...When I was a kid - with a butcher knife. Have a SCAR there.

  • May 1, 2011, 10:53 p.m. CST

    1st shot of the FILM...

    by KHjLL

    ...could be me choping off my finger and SLIDING the diget off the _____.