13 ASSASSINS Review
To quote another review of mine, "it's been ten years since Japanese maverick Takashi Miike took America by quiet storm with a vicious little gut-punch called Audition." That film made me a Miike fan for life, no matter how many One Missed Call's or V-cinema duds he's cranked out since. So when the opportunity arose to interview the prolific director on his upcoming press tour, I pounced like a cornered Zebraman. Unfortunately, due to the current crisis in Japan, Miike has understandably canceled his trip to the US, and my interview has been downgraded to a review. Considering the greater context, I really can't complain.
Much has already been written about 13 Assassins here at Twitch, so I'll forgo subjecting readers to yet another plot summary. Instead, I'll focus on the daunting task of trying to say something new and different about the film. It's received almost unanimous praise from film geeks and Miike fans alike, which only serves to make my job that much harder.
I'll start off by saying everything you've heard about 13 Assassins is true. It is one of Miike's most mature and accomplished films to date. It boasts exquisite production value and is beautifully shot. And yes, it culminates in an epic 40 minute battle that recalls Akira Kurosawa and the classic Jidaigeki of yore. So why did I merely enjoy the film? Why wasn't I blown away?
Maybe it was the out of focus subtitles and the resulting headache. (Why didn't I get up and say something?) Maybe it was the loud breather/seat kicker behind me. (You'd think that at a press screening there'd be an elevated level of courtesy. You'd be wrong.) Maybe the hyperbolic love being showered upon the film created unrealistic expectations. Or maybe it's because 13 Assassins is a completely adequate film, and nothing more.
That doesn't mean it isn't the best film Miike's made in years- because it is. Front to back, it's across the board solid. It just doesn't have that little something extra to push it over the edge into greatness. I'm not talking about dart-spitting vaginas or zombie musical numbers, here. A lack of patented Miike "craziness" isn't the problem. It just doesn't stand out as anything other than a well made exercise in classical Japanese storytelling.
And there's nothing wrong with that. If you're a fan of the man, you're probably gonna enjoy it. Based on previous reviews, there's a good chance you might even fall in love with it. There's a specific demographic out there that is predisposed to. I thought I was one of them. Methinks a second viewing in a more controlled environment is in order. Until then, my feeling is that the film was merely good.
On a side note- according to the Hollywood Reporter, Magnet has cut twenty minutes out of the film for its international release. Those twenty minutes are set in a brothel, just before the climactic battle. I assume the scenes were cut for pacing, but am curious as to what we're missing. In a film with this many hacking and slashing roles, a little extra character development couldn't hurt. If it's twenty minutes of Samurai debauchery we are being deprived of, I'm gonna be pissed come the inevitable director's cut.
It's interesting that a traditional Japanese film is Miike's most internationally accessible in years. The artistic and critical success of 13 Assassins bodes well for another upcoming Miike-helmed remake- that of Masaki Kobayashi's Hara Kiri (Seppuku.) Although, the fact that said film will be (has been?) shot in 3D leads me to believe it may not be the classical affair Assassins was. You can never tell with Miike, which is part of the fun. Even when he disappoints, he does so better than anyone else.
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