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Friday, September 2, 2011


This is the 3rd film by Takashi Miike I've seen, and one more major bit of evidence that I really like his films. The other 2 were Graveyard Of Honor and Shinjuku Triad. Both excellent films, equals to this one, 13 Assassins. The assassins are samurai gathered to help one of them get revenge on a Shogun-to-be who was a bit too arrogant with his power. He killed the wrong man's son for no reason, as Johnny Cash said, just to see him die. The last half of the 2 hr film is the fight between 13 samurai and 200 soldiers, several of them samurai. They got er done. Only 2 survived, maybe one, depending on how you interpret one of the characters, the other survivor, who may or may not be a ghost at the end. The first half was preparation, gathering the samurai, getting to know them, the circumstances that trigger the revenge, the whole story. The beauty of the filming of it was equal to all the rest. It seems like it would be a challenge to make a film with a full hour battle scene of slashing swords. It was never boring. No action was ever repeated, so it never grew boring, like watching a flame that changes continually, or like watching a basketball game that changes all the time.

It's hard to think of samurai films as art other than Kurosawa. He wasn't the only one making samurai art films. By art film, I mean there's nothing cheesy about the script or the characters or any of the choreography. It's not a cliche samurai film, while it's awfully much like Kurosawa's 7 Samurai, the ultimate samurai art film. By art film, I mean it doesn't concede to box office. In this one, 13 Assassins, the characters are complete people. We see them through the Japanese formal ways of addressing each other in conversation or any kind of talking, we see their culture as they are living by the dictates of their culture, we see that they are warriors as their role in life, and they are human beings beneath all that is expected of them in a tightly constricted society. You get a feel for the code of honor among samurai without it being explained.

The way the first half of the story unfolded I found masterful artistry in film making. The samurai in the lead, the one whose mission they were all on, was a wise man who spent much time in meditation looking for answers to his strategic questions. Before they set out to address the army of 200, they realistically knew few or none of them would survive. A scene in a time when the leader was preparing everybody for the fight. They all vowed their readiness to die. When the man who was the leader, on his mission to kill the man who killed his son, met his end after a sword fight with his adversary, which he won in that he watched the other die before he died of wounds from the fight. He was content he had killed the man and was ready to go on. His work on earth was done. It was weariness that got the 13 Assassins. When they became clumsy, the others were getting past their defenses, getting a slice in, cutting them down gradually.

When 13 go up against 200 and all end up dead but for one of the 13 samurai assassins, it tells these guys were master swordsmen who could take on 5 and 6 and 7 at the same time. I asked a martial arts black belt how that's possible. He said, They can only come at you one at a time, so you take them out one at a time. It's the same as against one, but several times. They didn't dispatch the enemy by sword play alone. In the beginning of the battle they used basic explosives (1844) and booby traps they constructed the day before the army entered this village a lodging village along a rural road. They used a lot of arrows at the beginning. Right away, in the first onslaught of arrows they dispatched 70, leaving 130 for them to take on sword-to-sword. These are razor sharp swords. I've seen some awfully good samurai movies, and there are several. It's like it's a challenge for a Japanese director to have his go at a samurai film. Over the years since 7 Samurai, quite a number of very well made films have come along. This 13 Assassins is one of the very best of them. It was an action film and it was not. It was, at heart, itself, rating 5 stars from my estimation.


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