Tuesday, April 10, 2012

13 Assassins (2010)

You have every right to be afraid of a Takashi Miike movie. He can be ferocious—as in, to name a very few, Three ... Extremes, Gozu, Ichi the Killer, and the infamous Audition.  But 13 Assassins feels more like Kurosawa, or any one of countless samurai pictures that ennobles defeat as only high-minded Japanese action pictures can.

After an almost leisurely set-up—leisurely for Miike, who along the way still provides some queasy dips and rough jolts to establish the depths of his evil protagonist, an honor-less tyrant who tortures and oppresses the innocent—the movie becomes a monumental, meticulously staged battle sequence—no, more a bloody ballet of strategy and stratagem, as his 13 assassins plow through a horde of henchmen through the streets of a village transformed into one big trap by the wily assassins—all of whom, Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven-style, are introduced and established—but this time it's thirteen, each a separate personality, each tuned like a Stradivarius meant only for bashing over the heads of evildoers.

And while Roger Ebert's advance word on The Raid: Redemption signals that new-school action is sheer spectacle, 13 Assassins is devoted to more than nonstop mayhem. Don't get me wrong, though: the final third of the film is indeed an extended action set-piece, as the thirteen assassins do all they can to destroy the tyrant's men.  But by the time the battle begins, we understand the players, the stakes, and the rules; and so the game itself—as bloody as it certainly gets—has weight and depth.  Miike often plays with genre to uncork his splashy moral sensibility; this time, he too plays by the rules, and directs a precise, plotted melee of exceptional grace and satisfying melancholy.  After all, it wouldn't be a classic Japanese action picture if, like Lao-tzu's Master (yes, I know he's Chinese, but bear with me), the hero does not "enter a battle gravely, / with sorrow and with great compassion, / as if he were attending a funeral." And while Miike's assassins infrequently show compassion as they flood the village with a crimson tide, they certainly find no "delight in the slaughter of men"—well, not too much.


  1. Yay! You're back! Love the blog, Paul.

  2. Well, J. Henry, I promptly wandered away from it. Thanks for the encouragement; I'm determined to keep posting, despite my lazy bones.