Friday, May 1, 2015


Don’t ask me why but back in 2006 I went to the theater and paid full ticket price to see Eli Roth’s Hostel (I was with a group of friends and I didn’t wanna be the one party-pooper that didn’t wanna see the movie everyone else agreed upon). To no surprise the movie was incredibly stupid. The only thing that got any kind of a rise out of me in that movie was Takashi Miike’s unexpected cameo. “Does anyone sitting in this sold out AMC theater even know who this is?” I thought. What was a respected art-house filmmaker doing in an Eli Roth movie??
But then I remembered that Eli Roth comes from the school of Quentin Tarantino who is heavily influenced by a lot of (overly violent) modern Asian Cinema like Miike's and his cameo suddenly made a lot of sense.
Side note - violence & censorship in Japanese media has always perplexed me. The genitalia in Japanese pornography is always censored yet there seems to be no problem with extended scenes of some of the most over the top violence in modern cinema.

Besides his own Kill Bill movies, Quentin Tarantino goes so far as to attach his name to certain Asian films that have nothing to do with him outside of a random "producer" credit.

Quentin’s association with modern Asian cinema is so deep that his name has already been dropped in this very review numerous times before we’ve even delved in to the movie I'm supposed to be talking about.

Takashi Miike’s reputation is bigger than a cameo in a silly movie directed by one of Tarantino’s pupils. Chances are you've either seen or at least heard about one or two of his movies like Ichi The Killer or Audition. And I'm not sure how many of you know this but My Chemical Romance based one of their music videos on Audition (and I'm not saying that like it's something cool. I don't like My Chemical Romance. I'm just pointing out that Miike's influence has gone outside of just Japanese arthouse)

For those of you that are familiar with Miike's work, you know he isn't shy about showing blood, guts and over the top violence (sometimes to the point where you can barely take it seriously). But after over two decades of exploding body parts, gruesome murders, projectile vomit and graphic scenes of old women giving birth to full grown men, his cinema has gotten a little old (I'm aware he's branched off in to other genres, but I think we all know the kinds of movies he's most known for). We get it - you're trying to shock us. Cool. I sometimes feel like his core movies are the kinds of movies 15 year old boys get together and watch just to say they saw something disturbing. I spent a lot my early 20’s exploring his work and I often found myself looking away with an annoyed/disturbed look on my face as if to say “why am I watching this?”

But with 13 Assassins Takashi Miike finally had an excuse to be as bloody & violent as he wanted to be.

From artwork to classic cinema, there’s a very romantic image that a lot of us have of the graceful samurai when in fact their world was probably really gritty & violent. Samurai armor was archaic (when compared to what came after) so I imagine it was difficult to do anything damaging to your opponent. I’m willing to bet a lot of samurai chose to not use their bulky armor because it slowed them down, which made them a lot more vulnerable to sword blows. Death by sword has to be one of the worst ways to die. It isn’t always quick and has to be incredibly painful. In movies we always get that slow cliché shot of one samurai gracefully slashing another samurai across his chest with minimal blood spurting out. That can’t be how it really was. I’m sure samurai battles were drenched with blood & organs spilling all over the place.

Who better to show all of that than a sick individual like Takashi Miike?

Takeshi Kitano tried his hand at the samurai genre with the Zatoichi remake, but that movie felt more about him (Kitano) and less about the story. In the last 15 years there have been other cult/crossover samurai-based films like Ghost Dog and it's knock-off Kill Bill, but 13 Assassins is probably the best film of the last 15-20 years to deal with Samurai culture

The basic plot is straight out of a Kurosawa samurai film. In Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, we get a crew of assassins who are hired to put an end to a group of bandits that are terrorizing a defenseless village. In Miike's 13 Assassins we get an even larger crew, led by main character; "Shinzaemon", each with their own unique style & personality, that are hired to kill a sadistic authoritative figure ("Naritsugu") that's disrupting the peace & tranquility throughout an area of Japan (he rapes, murders & tortures innocent villagers just for the fun of it).
Unfortunately, Naritsugu is the shogun's brother. This makes him "untouchable". So the 13 assassins' mission to kill him is technically illegal. And to make things worse, Naritsugu not only has a small personal army of his own, but his right hand man/bodyguard; "Hanbei" is one of the deadliest samurai around and a former rival of Shinzaemon (some of the characters in 13 Assassins are based on real historical figures)

Outside of the obvious nods to Seven Samurai, Miike also draws from Kurosawa's Yojimbo...

Yojimbo / 13 Assassins

Yojimbo /
13 Assassins

Yojimbo /
13 Assassins

Yojimbo /
13 Assassins

As one would expect in a film like this, 13 Assassins has epic battles (which are extremely entertaining and choreographed); the classic one on one showdown between the two rival samurai; lots of blood and just all around amazing action. What also sets 13 Assassins apart from a lot of other recent martial arts/samurai films is that there are good/memorable performances. Goro Inagaki's Naritsugu is an incredible villain but he isn’t given the same amount of camera time as the other characters. Plus he’s calm & a bit apathetic so it’s easy for his presence to go unnoticed (I urge you all to go back and pay close attention to his performance).

I'd go so far as to say this is Miike's best work after Audition (that may not be saying much as I'm not the biggest fan of his work). Anyone who likes; Kurosawa, Tarantino, martial arts films, or “men on a mission” movies (from Dirty Dozen to even Lord Of The Rings) should enjoy 13 Assassins. This is also a good starting point for the average movie-goer that doesn't want to sit through something like Seven SamuraiYojimbo or even Hidden Fortress.


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