13 Assassins - Blu-ray Review

'There's nothing particularly fancy here, just solid storytelling, directed by a man with confidence in his style and in his ability to tell a simple tale.'

Workaholic director Takashi Miike (two or more films a year, every year, since 1991) starts 13 Assassins with a shocking image. It's a well directed scene. At first we don't want to believe what we're witnessing. Then we're forced to. Miike finds grim beauty in making the audience squirm, and in an on-screen death more at home in the Horror genre.

The segment immediately following Miike's shocking introductory blood-letting logically concerns itself with examining the nature of an evil which led to such violence. In this early segment, and the strong middle third, 13 Assassins excels.

Miike explains the rigours of the plot in a thorough, un-fettered style, which never stays in one place long enough to get boring. Thirteen characters, plus antagonists and bit-part players, is a lot of information to get across but the director paints in clear lines - guy with spear, two guys who look/sound alike, lone maverick, etc. - and then uses the middle third's voyage of discovery to add depth. There's nothing particularly fancy here, just solid storytelling, directed by a man with confidence in his style and in his ability to tell a simple tale.

Clearly, the whole thing cannot but nod to Seven Samurai, and the finale in particular has nowhere to go but to create a huge set piece battle, strung around the confines of a village. Again, Miike's direction is fine but it feels like an anti-climax when held against the careful poise of the setup. The poor CGI of the fiery bulls pull you right out of feudal Japan and the characters are reduced to squealing sword-holders. It's epic in terms of length and focus (it takes up an entire third of the film) but in satisfaction terms, it's meagre.

Perhaps one of the highest accolades you can give 13 Assassins is that, clearly influenced by Seven Samurai, Miike doesn't try to remake it or reboot it: he just makes a film which references it, learns from it and tries to give the same levels of craft and satisfaction. It gets damn close too, although the early character-building has ten times more worth than than the late swordplay.



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