REVIEW: 13 Assassins

13 Assassins
Directed by: Takashi Miike
Written by: Daisuke Tengan (screenplay)
Starring: Kôji Yakusho, Garô Inagaki, Masachika Ichimura, and Takayuki Yamada

It turns out the man behind the gruesome yet oddly beautiful Japanese horror film Audition has the blood for hard-boiled samurai action. 13 Assassins has perhaps the most gloriously choreographed battle sequence since Helm’s Deep from Lord of the Rings.  Yes, it is that good.

Outside of that nearly 45 minute slice of cinematic glory is a fairly standard if beautifully shot good vs. evil story.  The aging samurai Shinzaemon (Kôji Yakusho) is taken from his quiet days of fishing and secretly tasked by an official in the Japanese Shogun regime to kill the tyrant Naritsugu (Garô Inagaki), who will take a spot on the council and inevitably disrupt the peace with his war-craving lunacy.

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ARCHIVE REVIEW: Battle Royale

Battle Royale
Directed by: Kinji Fukasaku
Written by: Kenta Fukasaku (screenplay), Koushun Takami (novel)
Starring: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Chiaki Kuriyama, and Reiko Kataoka

The age old question “What would you do to stay alive?”  has been explored to death.  A unique take on an old adage is always welcome, and Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale hoped to deliver that.  Does it succeed?  Kind of.

In a futuristic vision of Japan, the children are too unruly.  So, a classroom of 40 children is selected at random each year to partake in a brutal three day free-for-all on an island until only one remains.  If more than one remains, the collars placed around their necks will detonate.  Then the survivor returns to the country, striking fear into the others with their stories of the horror.

This is a film that could be analyzed to death by philosophers and historians as to what exactly it means in the context of Japanese history.  Is it an allegory to Japan’s involvement in World War II?  Is it a statement about individualism in a country that is notoriously solidified and stubborn in combat?  It’s both, and they kind of mesh, which is why the film could be looked at so deeply.

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