I just went to see Takashi Miike’s ’13 Assassins’ at the Curzon Soho. It’s a classically made Samurai film in the Kurosawa mold. The basic plot is that the successor to the Shogun is a psychotic monster and a group of Samurai is hired to kill him at any costs.
I’m an avid fan of Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima’s epic ‘Lone Wolf & Cub’ Manga. This is the first film I’ve seen that fully captures the way of the Bushi with the same spirit as that great work. The film, like the comic has a deep reverence for the nobility of the Samurai in their strict devotion to Bushido even while exposing the absurd lengths to which it can lead it’s followers. Both works explore the notion that a true Samurai would fight to his last breath to protect his master, even if he despises his master with the very same breath.
Takashi slowly builds up the tension, scene by scene and character by character for the first two-thirds. Every rustle of silk, every wrench of leather and every drop of rain used in the masterful sound design adds to the suspense. In the final third it all explodes in a cathartic orgy of slicing Katanas. A lesser director would’ve shown a montage of the preparations for the showdown. But Miike shows you nothing, so like the terrified enemy you have no idea what the assassins have in store. The editing of this climactic battle is breathtaking, I never once lost track of the action even when the titular 13 assassins are all taking on 10 men a piece. Takeshi Miike… arigato.
On a sad final note it seems that 16 mins of footage was chopped out for the international cut I saw. I’ve no idea where the trims were made, or even why they were made at all!?!?! Hopefully the Blu-Ray release will restore the full cut that Japanese audiences enjoyed last year.