(Welcome to the inaugural entry in Summer Of Samurai. AKA the best idea that I seem bound and determined to mishandle. In its first year I tried to devote the month of August to Samurai, which was a very bad idea. This year determined to spread it out over the summer I announced the revival of the series at the beginning of June and now present the first entry midway through July… Well better late then never, and I can’t think of a better film to start out on.)
Takashi Miike is a hero to most/ But he never meant shit to me. If there’s one cult filmmaker whose bandwagon I’ve never been on its Miike. Maybe its because I’ve always liked Japanese Cinema enough that Miike simply wasn’t the only game in town when it came to extreme Asian cinema. Maybe its because you can only see so many people boiled alive in feces before the bloom comes off that particular rose. But mostly it’s because that Miike’s films just feel sort of empty, take away the transgression and there’s nothing there. Even the films that succeed purely by pounding one into submission, like his gleefully grotesque musical Happiness Of The Katakuri’s, do so by bludgeoning you with novelty.
This is all to establish that I am just as surprised as you are when I say that 13 Assassins is one of the finest examples of its genre that I know of. And could very well be one of the greatest action films I’ve ever seen.
Ironically the first thing that lets us know that it is a different Takashi Miike that we’re dealing with is Hari-Kari. In the opening shots of the film a Samurai lord commits seppuku, as a protest against the Shogun’s evil half brother. It’s easy enough to imagine how Miike would usually film that scene, with gore and gristle splattering all over the staid period settings. Instead Miike keeps the shot on the lord’s face throughout the action, emphasizing the time it takes, the emotions and pain that play out on his face. The amount of will it takes to do as he does. There’s more depth in that shot then there is in the rest of Miike’s films put together (It’s worth noting that when the one moment of traditional Miike transgressive perversity does come into play its meant to evoke sorrow, an emotion heretofore foreign to Miike's Oeuvre).
Spurred on by the act of the lord the high justice of the land commissions a faithful Samurai to assassinate The Shogun’s brother and his private army. The Samurai gathers together twelve other men for the task. It’s thirteen men against seventy, but then… Well that would be telling.
What follows is the kind of film that makes you a genre fan for life, and keeps you one when the love begins to wane. It’s classic man on a mission filmmaking, a slow burn that takes careful time with its characters, atmosphere and story that builds to an apocalyptic ending that just keeps going and going. It’s genuinely epic filmmaking and I feel sorry for the action fans who are getting suckered on Bay-splosions who for five dollars more could own this masterpiece. It’s one of the best of it’s kind and I know I’m sounding like a broken record here but I cannot freaking believe that Takashi Miike made this thing.
I envy the kids who get this as their gateway film.