13 ASSASSINS is a fantastic film. I literally bounced out of the cinema having watched it! On one level it's a brilliantly lavish Samurai film in the classic mould - beautiful costumes, whole villages created as sets, codes of honour broken, elegantly choreographed sword-fighting - and it reminded me how much I loved Samurai films. On another level, it's typical Takashi Miike mischief - satirising the violence of Samurai movies with a level of gore and blood that is quite simply ridonkulous - and making the village idiot actually a better sword-fighter than the pompous Samurai.
The plot is straight out of Shogun Total War 2. It's mid 19th century Japan with the Shogunate on its last legs but still rich enough to hire Shinzaemon (Kôji Yakusho) to assassinate the evil pretender, Lord Naritsugu (Gorô Inagaki). The first half of the film is a Kurosawa style "putting the band back together" narrative, with the cool twist of having Yusuke Iseya play the provincial dolt who gains a place alongside his hard-core Samurai team-mates. And in the second half of the flick, they turn the town of Ochiai into an A-Team style booby-trap setting up a brutal, bloody massacre.
The first thing to say about 13 ASSASSINS is that it looks amazing. The production design is lavish in style and flawless in its period detail, creating a look typically associated with epic historical drama. The photography (Nobuyasu Kita) echoes this lavish style with Kubrick-like deliberate framing and slow, stylised camera movements. Interior scenes are lit by candelight to give an authentic feel and the detail of the costumes is breath-taking. The second thing to say is that beyond the historic detail, Takashi Miike remains the Director of the Egregious - from the audacious sadism of Naritsugu (e.g. the women crippled so extremely by "total massacre") - to the egregious and dogmatic code of honour of Shinzaemon - to the balletic, operatic, monumental final display of bloodshed in the village. Miike creates a film that is utterly modern in its gorging, self-indulgent, obese display of blood and violence - but also a film that is curiously nostalgic for the age of the Samurai when that bloodshed was part of a self-sacrifice for honour. His film is, then, a bravura performance - modern, nostalgic, bloody, but with depth. Undoubtedly one of the finest films of the London Film Festival.
13 ASSASSINS played Venice and Toronto 2010 and was released in Japan in September. It opens in the UK in May 2011.
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