My Rating: 5 stars
I’m a huge fan of Takashi Miike, so I was very excited to be able to attend a sneak peek of his latest film, courtesy of the DC APA Film Festival. Miike’s one of those directors who seems to be trying to make at least one film in every style, and this latest is his foray into the classic “samurai avenging injustices” genre. Only, we all know by now that Miike’s style is anything but “classic.” He always manages to find a way to infuse his own unique, warped imprint into everything he touches. Especially since he insists on making the most bizarre cameos possible in all the films he directs. They are always really fun to watch for.
So, this film is great. It starts off just as slowly as any of these old period pieces set in feudal era Japan, but it quickly descends into pure mayhem and madness. Shinzaemon is a retired samurai, but he is prompted back into action when he learns that the Shogun’s “adopted” (code for bastard) son, Lord Naritsugu, has been terrorizing peasants. He’s been killing and mutilating men, women and children all throughout the land, and all with the most cold-hearted, disinterested cruelty. So Shinzaemon decides to assemble a band of other idle samurai to hunt this despot down and assassinate him. Those would be the thirteen assassins that give this film its title. And they really are a very mismatched band of warriors. And these men are caricatures—each outrageous in his own way.
The one thing I really love about Takashi Miike’s style is that he’s never afraid to just go for it. He’s got no shame, and absolutely no restraint. I think this is because he has a deep-rooted sense of humor (albeit a very dark one). It’s an ability to identify and appreciate the absurdity in life. Miike’s films have a reputation for being pretty violent and bloody (and this one is certainly no exception). But they are also incredibly funny. The gore is certainly meant to shock, but I don’t think it’s just for the sake of a cheap thrill. I think it’s meant to throw us of balance. His work is horrifying where we expect delicacy, and actually quite subtle where viewers typically expect to find vulgarity. Of course, we can always count on Miike for some truly silly stunts too. The result is audiences that are quite delighted and amused, even after witnessing all the horror and disfigurement and devastation. Those moments are upsetting and heartbreaking, for sure. But, Miike really understands how a film should flow, and balances these difficult scenes with the right dose of irreverence. He’s a true master, and this film is a roaring success.