Authenticity has its rewards. I have to admit that while I’ve often thought that famed cult Director Takashi Miike’s films were interesting, there’s always been an American influence looming over most of them. This was never more evident then in the 2007 glorious looking debacle "Sukiyaki Western: Django," a film steeped in forced western culture. But the samurai hens have come home to roost, as Miike thankfully leaves his love of the US behind and throws himself full throttle into the distinctly Japanese "13 Assassins" – and it’s his bloody five star swan song.
Lord Naritsuga is one mean bastard. He rapes and kills at will, tortures for fun, and has no problem throwing his status around in the name of evil. This is all much to the dismay of Top Shogun Official, who is helpless to stop him due to the fact that he is the Shogun’s young brother and hence above the law. So he secretly enlists the help of Shinzaemon Shimada, a skilled master swordsman who recruits a gang of deadly, loyal and ready to die samurai who make it their final act to kill the deranged Lord before he reaches untouchable land and ascends the country into unneeded war.
It may seem simple, but even before the stunning final act, Miike crafts his film with an equally engaging slow pot boil that lasts all way to the inevitable climax. It reminded me of when David Cronenberg made "Eastern Promises" and similarly to that outing, "13 Assassins" is Miike’s most accomplished work. The titular samurai here are each distinctive and memorable in both character and style – from the no-nonsense and focused leader Shinzaemon (played with serious gusto by Koji Yakusho) to the last man picked up along the way (rock wielding goofball Yusuke Iseya Koyata) all characters are fully developed before the sh*t hits the fan.
And boy does it ever, as Miike stages one of the most thrilling, visceral and downright blood-pumping battles ever to be captured on film. Using everything from traditional swords (the blade slices are lusciously loud and crisp!) to explosives, arrows, sticks and even rocks, these 13 warriors (who look their foes right in the eye!) use every weapon in their arsenal to complete the task – failure is not an option.
The same could say the same about Miike and in this case he’s won. More than just another action picture and far better then a simple character drama, "13 Assassins" marks a filmmaker at the peak of his cinematic prowess – Miike has hit his samurai stride.
13 Assassins hits select theaters on April 29 from Magnet Releasing.