Yes, well done it has the word ASS in the title...twice!
Rumour has it that if Takashi Miike’s production output falls below 4 feature length films a year the world will end and the gates of hell will open up, unleashing a deluge of demons so great that not even Jean Claude Van Damme will be able to stop them. This may have something to do with why in the last 20 years he has directed more than 80 films. And he doesn’t make just terrible film after terrible film either, he has been responsible for some of the classics of Japanese cinema, notably Ichi The Killer and Audition, which became cult classics in the western hemisphere. 13 Assassins definitely doesn’t show that the movie-making machine is slowing up either, remaining as intense and intelligent as the large part of his back catalogue.
The film follows the story of a Samurai, hired to kill an evil overlord looking to spread chaos and bring Japan back to an age of war. This of course is no easy task, and so he must recruit a band of loyal warriors prepared to give their lives in honourable combat to assassinate this crazy bad man.
If only it was real life...and the evil bad man was Jordan. Life would be good then.
So it’s very much a film that “does what it says on the tin.” At just over 2 hours long it is clearly split into 2 halves, the build up and the combat. And when I say halves, I literally mean it - the combat scene is the entire second half of the film. Now some would say that a whole hour of nothing but combat would begin to loose the intensity after a while, but it really doesn’t let up, it just keeps getting better and better.
Very much like an orgasm then...except with more violence. Well...depends on what kind of orgasm...
So where does the intelligence come in? Well apart from feeling very reminiscent of Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece, Seven Samurai, it actually turns the genre on its head by playing out very much like many Hollywood films. A build up to a great stand off battle at the end, followed swiftly by a one on one show down between each gang’s leaders. It certainly feels like a film influenced by Hollywood and this could have been a let down, there are certainly some clichéd moments in it. But Miike has managed to keep enough Eastern energy in it for it to set itself apart from the usual generic crap. It is this delicate balance that keeps this film on your toes throughout where you think you know what will happen, but it never quite plays out that way.
Not only that, but there is an absolutely insane screwball character thrown into the mix. A wandering man who had been thrown out of his gang, looking to join in the fight for what appears to be a bit of a laugh and eventually leads to an incredible “wait….what the fuck?” kind of moment towards the films conclusion. He isn’t a samurai, but he’s quite keen to mock them and show them up whenever he can (he takes the phrase “bringing a knife to a gun fight” back to the Feudal Japanese era, using a sling and rocks against an army of swords and bows), even uttering the line “you samurai, you’re quite boring aren’t you?”.
I don't think he'll be on the Christmas card list then?
So the film, being a bit of a mash up between East and West, manages to turn a rather generic and average samurai story into a film that is epic from start to finish. You can feel the burning sensation throughout the whole of the build up, which culminates in the explosive ambush (literally) and the intense, relentless battle that pushes your senses to a new place, with just enough comic humour to ease up the tension so you don’t feel like your bowels are about to explode after being squeezed too tight by muscular tension.
Let’s hope the next 80 films continue to be as fresh and original as their predecessors. And for God’s sake someone try to find a way to make someone live forever, because if Takashi Miike dies, the natural order of the world will fuck up in a way that makes 2012 look like your little sister’s tea party.
Or something as adorable as this.