13 Assassins (Review)

13 Assassins

aka Jusan-nin no shikaku aka 十三人の刺客

Directed by Takashi Miike

Takashi Miike can make any type of film imaginable. He loves cinema, he loves to work, and his output is legendary. Miike crosses genres like they’re T’s, smearing the lines and creating unique works. His pattern of excesses give his films a tone that cannot be matched by other directors, even as the tones differ based on which excesses he is exercising for the film. From family-friendly fare to ultra-violent yakuza film, Miike puts his heart into everything he does. He pushes limits, test boundaries, and kicks butt.

Due to Miike’s initial popularity in cult movie circles in the West due to movies like Ichi The Killer, Audition, Fudoh, and Dead or Alive, people naturally assumed that he only made ridiculously violent films. I’m sure watching The Great Yokai War, Zebraman, or Yatterman blew their minds to smithereens. 13 Assassins has returned Miike to notice in the international scene, but again it is for a film that features a lot of violence. Most of the violence waits until the end of the film, and instead we go through samurai life, political drama, honor, and journey and preparation. I could say that I was one of those people who like to watch samurai films and am totally into the whole samurai code blah blah blah thing, but I actually don’t like samurai films (nor other period dramas known as jidaigeki.) Frankly, I don’t really care to watch stodgy guys sit around worrying about their honor for 90 minutes until a brief swordfight happens. This probably makes me a bad nerd and bad movie reviewer, but, whatever. I’ve avoided other recent samurai films, and only saw this one as Miike is attached to it. Miike manages to keep things interesting better than I hoped, preventing what could have been a dry and slow buildup with good characterization, planning, and the fallout when things don’t go according to plan and you end up wandering around the woods. There are even supernatural elements hinted throughout the film, the more you pay attention the more you realize where they are.

13 Assassins is a remake of 1963’s Jusan-nin no shikaku (The Thirteen Assassins), a film many (including myself) haven’t seen. In fact, my favorite part of the reviews for this is everyone bringing up Seven Samurai (including this review) while hardly anyone mentions the original version of 13 Assassins. It actually took a while to find a good site comparing the two films, and from what I can see Miike follows the original’s story fairly faithfully, but brings it down to a more human level.

Shimada Shinzaemon (Koji Yakusho) – The leader of the group. A war weary, former decorated Shogun’s Samurai who is hired to carry out the mission. probably best known in the West before this for roles in Memoirs of a Geisha and Babel
Kurnaga Saheita (Hiroki Matsukata) – A veteren samurai who is second in command. He brings in many of his students to the group. Hiroki Matsukata starred in The Magic Serpent
Shimada Shinrokuro (Takayuki Yamada) – Shinzaemon’s nephew, who has lost his way as a samurai, but joins up to redeem himself and his honor. Takayuki Yamada was in Battle League Horumo
Kiga Koyata (Iseya Yusuke) – A wild hunter who guides the samurai when they get lost in the forest and joins as the 13th assassin. His character is awesome, but I liked Sahara Heizo (Arata Furuta) better. Obviously referencing Kikuchiyo from Seven Samurai, here are hints throughout the film as to what Kiga actually is, including his beloved Upashi being seen eating raw meat, and his fate in the final battle.
Lord Naritsugu Matsudaira (Goro Inagaki) – This cruel heir to the Shogun’s throne rapes and kills at will, and no one stands in his way because of his power. So a plot is hatched to save the people and honor.
Hanbei Kitou (Masachika Ichimura) – Lord Naritsugu’s chief guard and samurai, who is also a rival of Shimada Shinzaemon. It is painfully obvious that Hanbei Kitou is dead meat. In fact, the same character dies in the original as well.

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The Magic Serpent (Review)

The Magic Serpent

aka Kairyu daikessen



Hiroki Matsukata as Ikazuki Maru
Tomoko Ogawa as Sunate
Ryutaro Otomo as Oroki Maru
Bin Amatsu as Yuki Daijo

This Movie seems like it would have it all. Ninjas, Giant monsters, sword fighting. Yet somehow it manages only be average. It has a plot similar to Dune, or 5000 other movies where sons of murdered kings return for revenge. So let’s get Started…

NINJA ATTACK! The movie opens strong as a horde of ninjas attack a castle. The master awakens, but is betrayed by his subject Yuki Daijo and the evil wizard Oroki Maru. Master is killed, but his son Ikazuki Maru is shuttled off on a boat. But Oroki Maru turns into a dragon and gives chase. The Dragon has a very familiar roar, suspiciously like another giant lizard known to attack Tokyo and breathe fire. But let’s not dwell on that and get back to the chase. The Dragon destroys the boat and is about to kill the boy when a bird comes out of nowhere and slices the Dragon, with blood spraying EVERYWHERE! It is quite magnificent. The bird grabs little Ikazuki Maru and flies off. The bird also sounds suspiciously like another flying monster that attacks Tokyo on some regularity, but it is best not to dwell on that, either.

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