Directed by Takashi Miike
If you have heard anything at all about 13 Assassins—the latest film from agitator Takashi Miike of Audition infamy—it's probably the 45-minute battle royal that closes out his compendious traditional samurai picture. In fact, I spent much of the movie myself banking on a thrilling conclusion to jump-start the surprisingly tedious story about a team of swordsmen led by the loyal Shinzaemon (Koji Yakusho) and tasked with bringing down the shogunate's excessively brutal leader-in-waiting, Naritsugu. When the time comes for the 13's ambush of Naritsugu's forces in a locked-down town, you may wonder how much you want to see a 45-minute melee anyway (it's closer to a half hour with an epilogue), even if it's embellished with explosions and flaming livestock.
A remake, sometimes subtle, of the 1963 jidaigeki film by Eiichi Kudo, 13 Assassins opens with a stark scene of ritual suicide. But besides the cutaway tales of Naritsugu's cruelty, Miike's use of head-clearing violence is channeled through more recognizable forms, and what you may consider a quintessential Miike flourish may well have found its first conception in Kudo's black-and-white original (itself compared to Seven Samurai at the time). Though Miike has of course ranged far and wide beyond the shock cinema that made his name in the States, his dutifully mounted production feels almost Soderberghian in its lack of real spirit or weight, which no amount of mugging by the 13's one non-samurai woodsman will help. It's not a failure on Miike's part—he himself liked it enough to remake Kobayashi's classic with Tatsuya Nakadai, Harakiri, showing at Cannes—but you'd get more diving into a retro at Japan Society.
Opens April 29