Directed by: Takashi Miike
Written by: Daisuke Tengan
Starring: Koji Yakusho (Shimada Shinzaemon), Goro Inagaki (Lord Naritsugu Matsudaria), Masachika Ichimura (Hanbei Kitou), Takayuki Yamada (Shimada Shinrokuro)
THIS MOVIE IS AWESOME!!!
This movie is awesome! Oh wait this is the professional review. Seriously though, I have heard a lot of great things about this movie. Now I love old, samurai films or any films really with swordplay involved. Seven Samurai (which this film uses a bit in terms of plot), the Zatoichi series, and the recent film Twilight Samurai come to mind. But now you have a samurai film directed by Takashi Miike, a man who is definitely not afraid to go full out violent in his films (see Ichi the Killer), and this is one high prospect of a film. In short, this is one of the most violent but coolest films you'll see for a long time.
The story involves a samurai named Shinzaemon who is tasked with assassinating the brutal Lord Naritsugu, who is embarrassing the Shogun for brutally killing anyone in his way. Shinzaemon is tasked to find the best samurai's he can find to help with this task. It isn't easy however since this is towards the tail end of the Edo period, where the code of the samurai is pretty much gone.
The first hour (give or take twelve minutes) is learning about the thirteen men assembled with this mission. There are a great mix of characters who are pretty much identified with their weapons. Shinzaemon is a very loyal samurai who has an ongoing feud with Hanbei, the professional bodyguard to Lord Naritsugu. You have a samurai who uses a spear instead of a sword, a fat comical relief character, an inexperienced samurai who has never killed before, and a wild hunter who may be more then what he appears to be. This film has a great mix of characters to care about and screenwriter Daisuke Tengan (who also wrote Audition and Masters of Horror with Miike) does a great job letting us get into the minds of these characters and also balance some dark humor before the action hits.
Once we get passed the first hour, which has some action, the last fifty or so minutes involve the epic battle sequence in a booby-trapped town. Miike directs this entire sequence so beautifully and bloody too. Sometimes in action movies, the big set piece can have low points that seem to drag on. But there is so much chaos going on the screen it's impossible to lose interest. It's amazing to see how many men get slaughtered on the screen in a variety of ways. Sometimes by dynamite, sometimes by arrows, and also a few get trampled by bulls which are on fire! But mostly you see a lot of sword fighting which doesn't get old as the fight goes on. I do question though how many the thirteen assassins have to fight. One says it's up to two-hundred men, but considering how many each samurai have to fight it feels like two thousand sometimes.
Even though this is a samurai film this does have a lot of Miike touches. Extreme camera angles, especially in sequences when the samurai begin to fall. Plus just some over the top, violent moments just scream Miike. You have a lady who's just a torso and the film begins with a man committing seppuku which lingers a bit too long. To warn everyone who reads this, this film isn't for the squeamish. It isn't much of a negative but there were points where I felt a bit queasy seeing so much bloody being spilled. Also, the only other problem I had with the film deals with the wild hunter named Kiga Koyata. It's clear that there's more to the character then just being a hunter, which Miike points out in some scenes. But it's not clear though on what he is considering there is a big scene involving him (let's say his neck should be sore) but by the end he looks completely fine. Researching the film you see what Kiga actually is, but it would've been nice of Miike explained it a bit better.
So yeah, this is on Netflix instant right now and I urge everyone to watch it. The characters are well defined and you'll care about every single one as the big fight scene goes down. Speaking of which, this movie is worth the price of admission (again free considering it's on Netflix) just for the massive fifty minute fight scene. This movie is bloody as hell but it's so damn entertaining you won't care just how implausible this movie is. I've enjoyed a lot of Takashi Miike's films before, but this might be my favorite Miike film right now.