Directed by Takashi Miike. Starring Kôji Yakusho, Gorô Inagaki, Masachika Ichimura, Yûsuke Iseya, Takayuki Yamada. (2010, R, 136 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 29, 2011
Miike's umpteenth feature film (83 and counting on the Internet Movie Database!) is a remake of Eiichi Kudo's 1963 film of the same name. It's not your typical Takashi Miike film either, but then again, to the best of my knowledge, Miike has never attempted to make anything that wasn't in some way visually or narratively transgressive or, at the very least, inappropriate for your grandmother's sensibilities. This is, after all, the director whose episode of Masters of Horror (“Imprint”) was so disturbing to Showtime execs they refused to air it, and whose 1999 film Audition remains, for my yen, the best date movie ever made. 13 Assassins is more formal in its stylistic approach to the subject matter than you might expect, though. In the Seven Samurai-esque story, noble samurai warrior Shinzaemon Shimada (Yakusho) is selected by the shogunate to assemble the titular team of elite swordsmen. Their mission, bloody though it will surely be, is ultimately one of peace: They are to kill renegade Naritsugu Matsudaira (Inagaki), a sadistic Edo overlord who threatens the peace and has lately taken to gleefully hacking the peasants to pieces. (One disturbing scene early on provides a horrific but narratively necessary glimpse into Lord Matsudaira's warped bloodlust; it's a nightmarishly lyrical moment recalling Audition-era Miike.) Shimada recruits 12 fearless samurai and one wily thief, and they set out to slay the slayer, only to discover that the odds have gone against them, disastrously so. Shimada's plan B? Take over an idyllic rural village along their route, reconfigure it as one giant deathtrap, and lure Lord Matsudaira's men inside. There will be blood, rivers of it, in point of fact. 13 Assassins is Miike's bid for a jewel on Akira Kurosawa's crown, and as such, it's an audacious attempt that turns out to be his most stylistically formal film to date. It's also a deeply moral antiwar film, if one chooses to view it that way. Miike's old bloodlust and astonishing flair for hypercreative ultraviolence is on full, gloriously gory display during 13 Assassins’ liquefied third act, essentially a single sequence of carnage that runs nearly 45 minutes. This is the Takashi Miike of Dead or Alive and Ichi the Killer. That he's finally chosen to direct a samurai epic with more than a few echoes of Kurosawa only adds to his crimson panache.