Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Samurai Epic Returns - "13 Assassins" Review

“In a mad world, only the mad are sane.” – Akira Kurosawa
Tashaki Miike’s 13 Assassins is not just a love letter to traditional samurai action films, but one of the finest entries in the genre that cinema has seen.  13 Assassins is Miike’s 83rd film in his prolific 23-year career, and he shows absolutely no signs of abating.

This time, Miike, best known in the states for his over-the-top macabre horror films Audition and Ichi the Killer, sets his sights on creating an epic along the lines of Akira Kurosawa’s best work.  The story in 13 Assassins, one of corruption and finding nobility in life, is nothing new and it certainly doesn’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to its characters, many of which are common staples in its genre.  However, what it offers is an incredibly precise sense of style that is rare to impossible to find in modern action filmmaking.
The end of Japan’s feudal era is rapidly approaching and Lord Naritsugu (Gorô Inagaki), callous and cruel, is set to soon take the throne, an act that would plunge the land into incredible violence and war.  Shinzaemon Shimada (Kôji Yakusho) is called before his masters to witness the unspeakable horrors that Lord Naritsugu has committed on his people.

One-by-one, Shinzaemon recruits 13 unemployed samurai to carry out the assassination of Lord Naritsugu, an act that will most certainly lead to their deaths.  Once embarking on their journey the group soon realizes that the evil ruler is being protected by Hanbei (Masachika Ichimura), and his army of samurai warriors, 200 in all.  Hanbei knows his actions will lead to the downfall of his country, but as a samurai he values loyalty over his own morality.

For many viewers, 13 Assassins might start off as an exercise in patience, but the film’s focus on character and honor for the first two acts is revitalizing.  Miike really demonstrates just how essential it is that the assassins kill Naritsugu by beginning the film with some of the most graphic and horrifying scenes.  That’s not to say that Miike treats his violence lightly, or revels in it, but that he uses it effectively to convey just how important the heroes’ task is.

The time spent learning about the characters’ lives and goals is well-spent and fully paid off in the film’s incredible finale, a 50-minute combat sequence that will make any action fan cry whilst delivering a standing ovation.  For the final half, the film delivers a nonstop battle through the streets of a collapsing town where blood literally rains from the sky.

Rarely is action handled with such masterful scrutiny.  Where the film begins with slow tracking shots of men meticulously planning their ultimate demise, the film ends with incredibly kinetic filmmaking that doesn’t waste a frame or inch of screen-time.  Best of all, Miike never forgets the emotional component that compels the characters and makes the battle all the more exhilarating.

13 Assassins knows just how big of a spectacle it is, reveling in all the little moments and over-the-top dialogue that it can, but it never forgets the most important part of a great movie; it allows the audience to care about its characters and their actions.  Then, right when the audience begins to weaken, 13 Assassins goes in for the kill with one of the all-time great action finales.  This is a modern samurai classic that grins all the way to the end through its blood-soaked teeth!

3.5 / 4 Reels

Audio Version:


No comments:

Post a Comment