Monday, 11 October 2010

Swords on the Screen

There are a couple of interesting looking movies out this month. Both of them are somewhat similar in theme, but very different in treatment. The first is Jusan-nin no Shikaku (13 Assassins). It is a remake of Kudo Eiichi 's 1963 film staring Kataoka Chiezo. The original was great for atmosphere, but a bit disappointing in the sword wielding department. This becomes more understandable if you look more closely at his background - he was a rebel who, together with a number of other directors of the time, sought to criticize the samurai culture, using it as a mirror for their own rebellious times. (See Kudo Eiichi for more details.) And so the action is unglamorous and chaotic. Miike Takashi, who directs the new version, is known for the extreme violence in his movies - it seems this will be extreme action at least, but I don't expect much of a sub-text.

The story concerns the thoroughly vile Lord Matsudaira who is given to rape and murder, and effectively stands above the law, as the brother of the shogun. A small group of upstanding samurai decide that something must be done, and decide to assassinate him on his way back from Edo. They convert a vilage on the route into a death-trap and the battle begins. The subtitle for the new version is something like '13 against 300' - it seems that the last hour or so is given over to the ambush. Sounds like fun.

The second offering is a bit more serious and based on a historical incident: Sakurada Mongai no Hen (The Sakurada Gate Incident) of 1860, but it also involves the way-laying and assassination of a high ranking lord, the dictatorial official, Ii Naosuke. It centres on the participants, rather than the action itself, and looks to be a more thoughtful piece of film-making than '13 Assassins'. It is based on the novel by Yoshimura Akira, a well-known writer with a somewhat grim but insightful style. It definitely seems worth seeing.

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