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#37: Thirteen Assassins - Review 

13 Assassins 2010

Takashi Miike’s newest film Thirteen Assassins is perhaps the director’s most violent outing, yet traditional (dare I say normal) enough to convince this viewer that the divisive filmmaker may be evolving into a mainstream auteur. What he creates is a beautiful meditation on the samurai code, its shortcomings and facades, and dares to question the Bushido’s demand of loyalty to one’s master.

13 Assassins PosterSet during a time of peace in 19th century Feudal Japan, Thirteen Assassins tells a common “men on a mission” genre story while at the same time conforming to Miike’s more twisted inclinations. When the absurdly evil younger brother of the Shogun tortures, maims, rapes, and murders one too many innocents, an out of work samurai is hired to form a posse and assassinate the sociopath. What follows resembles what perhaps the unwanted lovechild of Miike’s Ichi the Killer and Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan might look like.

Thirteen Assassins was the first film I watched while attending the Pusan International Film Festival and it was easily my favorite film of the show. It fills Miike’s disturbance quota while at the same time producing one the greatest action set pieces I have ever seen. The last 45-minutes of the movie are dedicated to the assassination attempt; a non-stop samurai showdown complete with booby traps, trapdoors, and blazing stampeding steer. Having been weaned on his more deranged films, Miike has successfully made a Japanese epic that is similar in tone and pacing to his 1999 breakout film Audition, while at the same time remaining mostly accessible to a mainstream audience.13 Assassins

I do not want to give a false impression that this film is devoid of Miike’s usual bloody flair. The evil Lord Naritsugu Matsudaira comes from a long line of unhinged Miike villains. His is a dysfunction that leaps past frightening (like when he rapes a servant and murders her husband), unassumingly crosses the considerably heinous (employing a child’s body for archery practice), and ends up somewhere around completely absurd (slicing off the arms, legs, and tongue of a female servant, and then forcing her to keep working). There is no doubt that Matsudaira deserves to die, but his lunacy is so obscene you almost have to respect it . . . almost!           

In Mika Ko’s article The Break-up of the national body: Cosmetic multiculturalism and films of Mikke Takashi, the author examines the idea of the body-metaphor within the director’s films.  Ko explains, “…the relationship of the body (both real body and filmic body) to a myth or ideology of ‘Japaneseness” (35).  She goes on to relate this metaphor to the ancient kokutai ideology, which was created in the 19th century, claiming that all Japanese are united and linked by blood to a single imperial family. When considering the graphic imagery of the mutilated bodies in Miike’s Thirteen Assassins, I argue the film offers these scenes as an allegory to the unity of the once noble and mighty samurai and the feudal system they honored. There are two scenes in particular that I feel best fit into this allegory. The first scene was previously mentioned, when Lord Matsudaira cruelly cut off a servant girl’s arms, legs, and tongue. This removal of each limb could symbolize the systematic dismantling of the samurai way, the code they live by, and the seemingly blind obedience and loyalty they have for their masters. The second scene takes place during the film’s second act, and involves a voluntary allowance of sodomy. The man in the receiving position is not a samurai, but a village operator that had offered his services to the samurai. The man performing the act was the final thirteenth assassin, a forest dweller that begged to tag along with the other twelve samurai, although he was not one himself. I feel this fits with Ko’s body-metaphor simply because of the direct violation involved. The operator, not a samurai but still a supporter of the “old-school” way of the samurai, is literally objectified and injected with this “new” type of warrior. The woodsman lives by no code, he has no master, he only looks out for himself (at least at first) and only wants to joint the fray because he is interested in a good fight. This man that follows no code is regarded as an equal to the samurai, and it is this changing of the guard connected with the sexual intrusion associated with sodomy that I feel best ties into the body-metaphor.

13 Assassins (what, you don't read Japanese?)I cannot wait to watch this film again, and I hope it receives a theatrical release so I may experience it with a crowd one more time. It is quintessential Takashi Miike, and yet proves that even an auteur that has directed as many films as he has can still mature and improve his trade. Thirteen Assassins was a fantastic way to start off a film festival as huge as PIFF, and the best way I could have kicked off my weeklong adventure in South Korea.

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Reader Comments (1)

I am so excited for this, I hope I can see it sometime soon

October 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterScraps

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