Tuesday, 26 October 2010
Well, I saw Takashi Miike's Jusan-nin no Shikaku, or '13 Assassins' which I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, and found it very rewarding. I would thoroughly recommend it, but also note that it is not for those who don't like violence.
A good cast, with some very well-known Japanese actors, and visually very impressive, not only in the action sequences, but also in the rich and authentic interiors and the lush countryside. Taking a leaf out of Kurosawa's book, there is plenty of rain and mud, but unlike him, blood, too. The atmosphere is established in the opening scenes and remains brooding and heavy throughout - though not without some light relief which is deftly handled, and which never slips into the realm of comedy that some directors seem unable to resist.
I glanced through some of the reviews in the western press (from the Venice film Festival etc), and although it was widely praised, I think the reviewers either did not see the full version, or have become inured to graphic and disturbing violence.
And the violence was, or at least should have been, disturbing - not the fights, which were plentiful and violent, of course, but the casual cruelty of the villainous lord (played by Goro of Smap - and a nice job he did, too). Japanese censors (and audiences) have always been more tolerant of graphic violence in films, and this is a good example. I don't expect it to pass the British or American censors without some serious cuts, and I would certainly not recommend it to anyone who is upset by violence. But at the same time, I wouldn't call the violence gratuitous, but it certainly is graphic. Japanese auteurs are fond of saying that this graphic depiction of violence is meant to bring home its horror, rather than glorify it. In this case it may succeed, especially in establishing the sadism and borderline sanity of the lord who becomes the object of the assassination attempt.
For anyone interested in swordsmanship, the battle scenes will probably be a treat. The swordplay is much better than in the original version (from what I remember) and there is plenty of it. This film keeps within the bounds of the possible, while fully playing up the heroics of the band of assassins. The battle is certainly long enough for most people's tastes - 50 minutes or so, but thoroughly enjoyable, if one can say that about so much blood, pain, madness and death.
In short, it may become a new classic of the genre - and I'm sure it would, if not for the violence. Certainly a more rewarding experience than The Last Samurai, and more action based than Tasogare Seibei etc. - go and see it if you have the chance.
And tomorrow I'm off to see Sakurada Mongai no Hen...!