I have 471 movies in my Netflix Instant queue. I tend to watch one thing for every five that I add, but now my library is close to being full and I have to make room. So, every Monday I’m going to pick a random movie out of my queue and review the shit out of it. But (like Jesus), I’m also thinking of you and your unwieldy queue and all the movies in it you want to watch but no longer have the time to now that you’ve become so awesome and popular. Let me know what has been gathering digital dust in your Netflix Instant library and I’ll watch that, too. One Monday for you and the next for me and so on. Let’s get to it.
What’s the movie? 13 Assassins
What’s it rated? R for shooting children with arrows, armless and legless sexual deviancy and samurais raining death from above.
Did people make it? Written by Daisuke Tengan and Shoichiro Ikemiya. Directed by Takashi Miike. Acted by Koji Yakusho, Hiroki Matsukata, Yusuke Iseya, Goro Inagaki, Takayuki Yamada, Tsuyoshi Ihara and Masataka Kubota.
What’s it like in one sentence? Seven Samurai meets The Wild Bunch with a bit of Ocean’s 11 thrown into the mix.
Why did you watch it? It popped into Instant Watch right as I was deciding what to do this week. It was either this or Hobo With a Shotgun.
What’s it about in one paragraph? There’s an evil lord named Naritsugu who kills children for sport and rapes women when the mood strikes him. Since he is the former Shogun’s son and the current Shogun’s younger brother, he will never be held accountable for his actions and is actually on the eve of getting promoted to a higher political position that would allow him to shape policy as he saw fit. After a man wronged by Naritsugu commits public seppuku, a samurai named Shinzaemon is hired to assassinate the rogue Lord. As Shinzaemon builds his team and plots the murder, he is completely unaware of the overwhelming odds his group of assassins will face and the evil that their adversary possesses.
Play or remove from my queue? Play the hell out of this one. Wow, what a fun movie. If you’re at all turned off by Takashi Miike and his brand of disturbing imagery and sometimes nonsensical storylines don’t let that deter you from 13 Assassins. This truly feels like it’s shot by a re-energized Miike with a budget and a vision instead of him just looking for new ways to visualize his fetishes. I’m not completely knocking Miike, as I dearly love Audition, Dead or Alive, Gozu and Ichi The Killer, but so many of the rest of his films feel like he had one cool idea and then built an entire movie around it (although, Dead or Alive feels that way too). 13 Assassins actually plays more like a real movie than anything he’s done since Audition. The film does have a couple of Miike moments, especially something that happens at the end, but I don’t want to spoil your enjoyment of them here.
The aspect that blew my mind the most was the fact that the entire last hour of the film is the assassination attempt on Naritsugu and it’s one nonstop breathless action sequence. When the assassins show up, Naritsugu has 200 bodyguards instead of 70 like they were expecting. Now, I didn’t count or anything, but I’m pretty sure we see the 13 assassins fight each and every one of the 200 guard two and three at a time. I hadn’t read that 13 Assassins was such a balls to the wall action movie, so I had just settled into the rhythm of a slower moving samurai picture when shit starts blowing up something fierce. There were so many times in that final hour where I found myself cheering at the sheer scope and ingenuity of the battle that I felt like a kid again watching Robocop for the first time. However, all of this leads to my one and only real problem with the film.
The version of the film I saw runs at 126 minutes that breeze by before you know it. There is also an original Japanese cut which runs 15 minutes longer that apparently has more character moments for the assassins and a few more Miike-ish fights of fancy that make the film feel more like a part of his oeuvre. I want to see the longer cut desperately because the one complaint I have about the film was that I only really got to know about 6 or 7 of the 13 assassins and, with a deeper grasp of all their characters, I bet the final hour would have been twice as intense and emotional for me. I could differentiate them from each other through all the smoke, fire and blood, but I couldn’t actually remember who each of them was in relation to Shinzaemon and the overall assassination plot. The Chubby Cheeked one, The Badass Ronin, The Gambler, The Untested Youth, The Old Samurai, The Wildling of the Woods and Shinzaemon were the only ones I really got a grasp of and I would have loved to have been emotionally invested in all 13 of them. If any of you have seen the longer cut of this film, let me know if it addresses any of my issues in the comments below.
I wonder if people complained about the villain of the film because he is so ridiculously evil that there’s moments where it’s almost laughable. He ties people up and shoots arrows in them for fun. He rapes a woman and when her husband comes in he disembowels him just for the hell of it. He cuts a woman’s arms and legs off and rapes her until he gets bored and then leaves her to die. He does all of this just because he enjoys it. We never find out his back story or any reasons why he’s the way he is, he just does things and then smirks about it. In any other movie I would have had a problem with such a one dimensional villain, but in this it works perfectly because it invests you in the assassins attempts on his life. You want this fucker dead from the first second he’s introduced. If this man is able to escape and take his position in a high seat of governmental power then all of Japan will be his raped amputee.
This movie really is quite a joy. Even in it’s deliberately paced first half it never drags or feels too exposition hungry. And that final hour has some of the most exhilarating action filmmaking I’ve ever seen. If you are a fan of movies stuffed to the gills with badasses that just can”t utter a single line without spraying awesomeness all over your face, then you have found your mecca.
Do you have an interesting fun-fact? It’s not really about 13 Assassins but it’s about Miike. I had always assumed that he was working on the fringes of Japanese film because his movies relegated him to that place, but in an interview with The Guardian I just read, he talks about the fact that he gets tons of offers to shoot films in America and turns them down since he would prefer to stay in Japan and make films. I know that most Asian directors that jump to the American cinema machine have a pretty bad track record (Tsui Hark, John Woo and Ryuhei Kitamura come to mind), but I would love to see what Miike does with an American budget. Takashi Miike’s Transformers would own us all.
What does Netflix say I’d like if I like this? Hobo With a Shotgun (on deck), Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (read my review here), Mesrine Part 2 (equally badass), Wild Target (haven’t seen but I love me some Bill Nighy, so consider it added) and 36th Precinct (French Badasses!).
What does Jared say I’d like if I like this? Badass cinema in general. Seven Samurai and Shogun Assassin are good places to start.
What is Netflix’s best guess for Jared? 4.0
What is Jared’s best guess for Jared? 4.5
Can you link to the movie? I sure can!
Any last thoughts? I could spend another thousand words on this movie but this column isn’t for in depth reviewing purposes, it’s just to let you know whether something is worth your time and this one is most certainly that. It’s a masterpiece on so many levels that it boggles the mind.
Did you watch anything else this week? I watched I Love You, Phillip Morris last night and it was one of the most weirdly enjoyable films I’ve seen in ages. I also saw Rise of the Planet of the Apes which was easily the best film I’ve seen in the theatre so far this year.
Next Week? Shotgun wielding hobo’s or something a little more down to Earth? The choice is yours.