Combustible Celluloid
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With: Koji Yakusho, Takayuki Yamada, Yusuke Iseya, Goro Inagaki, Masachika Ichimura, Mikijiro Hira, Hiroki Matsukata, Ikki Sawamura, Arata Furuta, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Masataka Kubota, Sosuke Takaoka, Seiji Rokkaku, Yuma Ishigaki, Koen Kondo
Written by: Daisuke Tengan, based on a screenplay by Kaneo Ikegami
Directed by: Takashi Miike
MPAA Rating: R for sequences of bloody violence, some disturbing images and brief nudity
Language: Japanese, with English subtitles
Running Time: 126
Date: 09/09/2010

13 Assassins (2011)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The Slice Is Right

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

13 Assassins is the eighth movie I've seen by the prolific Japanese director Takashi Miike. Some years back, in films like Dead or Alive, Audition, and Ichi the Killer, he was able to strike a good balance between the outrageous and the calculated, but now that balance seems to have been upset. His latest films just don't have the same energy; they don't quite know when to start or when to stop.

This latest, a remake of a 1963 film, is basically a Seven Samurai, Dirty Dozen-style "assemble the team" film. The goal is a dangerous attack that will no doubt leave many team members dead: samurai Sinzaemon Shimada (Koji Yakusho) is chosen to assassinate the sadistic Lord Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki), who likes to cut off the arms and legs of his female companions when he's through with them.

13 Assassins takes a very long time to get started, focusing somewhat on history and introducing the characters, one by one. Yakusho is one of my favorite actors, yet his trademark distant sadness doesn't seem particularly suited to this; he never really stands out among the many characters. For a long while the movie doesn't even seem like it's going to have any action. Late in the game, we meet our 13th team member, the gleeful, half-mad hunter Koyata Kiga (Yusuke Iseya); he is first seen hanging in a trap in the woods. Iseya is lots of fun, and he makes Koyata the most potent character. He injects some much-needed life into the film, and happily, he helps maintain it to the end.

Then we get to the climactic fight, a 45-minute tour-de-force, in which the assassins attack the evil warlord and his seemingly endless run of guards. Miike heaps on shocking amounts of blood and gore, with hundreds of dead bodies. Despite the intensity of the sequence, it's strikingly simple; there's very little irony or commentary. Its main feature is its sustained length. It's as if Miike wished to add his name to the list of old-time, classical action directors, alongside the likes of Robert Aldrich or Sam Peckinpah.

It will be interesting to see what was edited out of the film; the version that Americans will see runs about 126 minutes, which is 15 minutes shorter than the version Miike turned in. I viewed the film as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival.

This Miike film seems to have caught on in a big way, far more so than his earlier, crazier films. Maybe it's a good place for newcomers to start. The new Blu-Ray from Magnet comes with trailers at startup. Extras include an interview with director Miike (19 minutes), deleted scenes (18 minutes), and a trailer.

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