Indie Roundup: ’13 Assassins’ Director Takashi Miike Goes Old School
"13 Assassins" is easily one of the best movies to come out of Japan in a while and the best action flick to come out so far this year. Unlike the anodyne action sequences of such recent sword fighting fare as "Sucker Punch," this movie wasn't created in a computer; the violence in this film feels real and raw. Unlike the spastic battle scenes in "Battle: Los Angeles," this film doesn't feel like the cameraman was being chased by a bear. Instead "13 Assassins" has the sweep and grandeur of an old-school Akira Kurosawa samurai movie -- only with more blood. A lot more blood.
"We set out to make a movie the way they were made in the past," director Takashi Miike told me recently via Skype. "It was a challenge to ourselves to see if we could do it."
Miike is something of a legend among cult film aficionados. The insanely prolific director--he released eight, count 'em eight, feature films in 2002--has made movies of just about every genre under the sun, from thriller, to horror, to family comedy, to musical. And in the case of his 2002 movie "Happiness of the Katakuris," he managed to roll all of the above genres into one delirious work.
Yet Miike's reputation abroad rests primarily on two supremely disturbing movies. "Audition" and "Ichi the Killer," in different ways, are unhinged, surreal, and spectacularly violent. For the Toronto Film Festival premiere of "Ichi," publicists handed out barf bags. And, as someone who was in the audience, they were used.
For the first half of "13 Assassins," with is a remake of Eiichi Kudo's 1963 classic, Miike's direction is remarkably quiet and restrained. Then a brutalized, limbless peasant girl gets thrust in front of the camera about 20 minutes in; you know you're in Miike-land. The unfortunate woman was presented to the movie's hero, Shimada (played by Koji Yakusho of "Memoirs of a Geisha" fame), as the handiwork of a certain sociopathic lord who looks poised to take a senior role in the shogunate. Vowing to stop him at all costs, Shimada assembles a dozen top-drawer samurai to face off against this upper-class twit along with his army of 200 men.
Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images
Many of Miike's movies were direct-to-video flicks shot on the cheap. This movie was made for about $20 million. In spite of the blockbuster budget, there were still plenty of challenges with making a traditional samurai movie.