Vid Clip: Thirteen Assassins trailer (d. Miike Takashi, 2010)
Unlucky Them, Lucky Us!
by Ender’s Girl
Prolific cult director Miike Takashi’s remake of Kudo Eiichi’s 1963 chanbara classic Juusan-nin no Shikaku/Thirteen Assassins is currently vying for the Golden Lion at the 67th Venice International Film Festival, facing stiff competition from a diverse gallery of auteurs ranging from the acclaimed to the quirky to the downright notorious (uh, Vincent Gallo the Brown Bunny Man, anyone? YUCK). The VIFF runs from Sept. 1-11, 2010.
Set in the late Edo Period, the story of Thirteen Assassins is said to be loosely grounded in history: a covert samurai strike team carefully lays an ambush in a remote mountain village. The target? An evil maharajah — er, noble who will be traversing the nearby mountain pass with his retinue — and this being the time of the Shogunate, “retinue” roughly translates to “a small army of badass bodyguards.” It is a worthy plan, but will the stealth and cunning of these doughty warriors prevail against the sheer numbers of their foes? Well, Japan will find out when the film opens Sept. 25th.
So, why should you watch Thirteen Assassins? Lemme count the ways…
1. Jidaigeki. The very word excites me, lol. I mean, think of all the lovely things that come with the term: Samurai! Swordplay! Blood! Spilled guts! Funny clothing! Horseback riding! Chonmage! (errr okay so I was never a fan of bald-pated topknots, so scratch that) Tranquil mountain forests and pristine streams! Men talking in strange languages!!! (uh, scratch that too, I keep forgetting that Old Japanese is still… Japanese, so it durn’t really matter if I’m watching a contemporary or a period flick, lol.) Still, jidaigeki jidaigeki jidaigeki. *gurgles with happiness*
2. Miike Takashi. Film critics have called him “controversial” and “a maverick.” I’m no connoisseur who can speak with any authority on the matter, because to me he’s just “that dude who directed Crows Zero… and Crows Zero II!!!” Lulz. Well, henceforth he’ll also be known as “that dude who directed the Goro samurai movie” (hahahaha). Miike has earned a reputation for being quite the shocker, oh my (and I admit that the crazymonkey violence in the Crows Zeros could be off-putting at times), but I’m actually looking forward to insane levels of bloodshed in this film, so thank heavens Miike is at the helm and not… Yamada Yoji, who likes to portray the sedate, domesticated side of samurai — case in point, Bushi no Ichibun/Love and Honor [click to read my review]. Heh heh.
3. Inagaki Goro. SMAPster Goro in a Miike chanbara? Cool. SMAPster Goro as The Baddie in a Miike chanbara? Waaaay cooool. (Although it took me some time to get used to seeing him without his Magical Mystery Mono-hair, the one that’s always perfectly coiffed and never moves, lol.) I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I haven’t seen Goro act in a drama or film, primarily because… his name isn’t exactly bandied about whenever Smappies discuss who they think is the best actor from SMAP. BUT I’ve seen Goro do some great comedy in the SMAPxSMAP sketches – he’s never over-the-top but makes me laugh nonetheless, every bleeping time. Not that… uh, he’ll get to do much of that in a film where he plays this power-trippin’ murderous rapist whose smooth-browed, stoical mien belies a twisted psyche. I don’t know if the story will focus as much on Goro’s character compared to the 13 assassins, but I do hope he makes good with the material he’s given.
4. Suicide Missions. Think Jet Li’s Hero meets Zac Snyder and his 300 codpiece-wearing Spartans meets YamaPi’s Byakkotai (okay scratch that last one lol). As with any suicide mission, you know, as do the brave men who go on them, that such assignments are doomed from the very beginning, and yet they strive to complete their mission, paying dearly in blood and mangled flesh and the very last breath in their battered bodies. I love the reckless bravado and deeper, stronger bonds of brotherhood that infuse stories in this vein, and of course that familiar air of heroic desperation as the men train, fight, and later, die side by side. Each Mission – especially if it is one that seeks justice and the restoration of peace, and most of the time, it does – may be a lost cause from the onset, but one still worth taking. And that always makes for a damn compelling story.
5. Remakes. It’s always interesting to see how old standards are given a fresh re-imagining and re-working by a new team. The familiar story and characters are still there, but now it’s a different mind that brings them to life; a different set of hands putting the pieces back together; a different assemblage of actors inhabiting these beloved roles; a different technology taking the production to an exciting new level of cinematic wizardry; and yes, a new generation of movie audiences — perhaps a little more discerning and sophisticated… or not, lol — demanding to be wowed and entertained. Admittedly, remakes and adaptations are perhaps the diciest things a director can choose to do in his career, for the obvious reason that he will be hard put to deliver something that feels inventive and original while staying true to the spirit of the source material. But from what I’ve read about Miike Takashi, he can be considered anything but predictable, so let’s hope he strikes the right balance in this film. Still worth the (risky) shot, I’ll say.
6. Ensemble Casts. Likened to The Dirty Dozen, the cast of Thirteen Assassins are literally a baker’s dozen of actors whose combined body of work spans decades – continents, even. I cannot wait to see how the dynamics between the actors, and between the characters, will play out in the story. I mean, for lack of a better word… w00t!!! (lol)
7. Yamada Takayuki. Yamada Yamada Yamada, you slay me every time. (Literally in this film it seems! Oooofffhh) Ah Yamada. Where you go, I go. I don’t care if you’re the shortest little assassin of the bunch – or, come to think of it, of any drama/film cast you’ve ever been on, lol. But that’s immaterial. I hope the WHOLE WORLD gets to see you for the incredible actor that you are. I’d be head over heels in love with you by now IF I didn’t pee in terror each time you went off on your crazy-eyed rampages. You scare me sh*tless just thinking about what your loose-cannon characters will do next. Why do you keep playing these volatile, intense, deliciously twisted individuals? Prolly ‘coz you’re the only one in your generation who CAN. That’s how effective an actor you are.
8. Iseya Yusuke. Hahahahahaha thanks to Jenny I think I’ll be following this actor for quite some time. To YamaPi fans *cough* me *cough* he was just that lean, wiry dude from the Ashita no Joe trailer, raring to fight PiPi in the boxing ring. To longtime J-cinema observers he’s THE Iseya Yusuke, model-turned-serious-film-actor-with-“major Hollywood movie”-on-his-resume. I almost didn’t recognize him in Thirteen Assassins because of his grubby, grease-smeared face and wild-man-of-the-wood hairdo, but – ohyeahhh, the second I spotted those telltale cheekbones I knew it was him. Heh heh.
9. Takaoka Sousuke. I’m not a fan, but the dude is cute. And, if the Crows Zero movies are any indication, he can fight summat nasty, too! Besides, a little more eye candy to help balance the leathery old character actors in the cast won’t hurt one bit…
10. Oldies But Goodies. Oh what am I saying, talented old people RUUUULE the Earth, baby. I counted eight veterans in the cast, so yay for age diversity! There’s Yakusho Koji (Shall We Dance?) as Shimada Shinzaemon, the leader of the assassins. And – oh oh! It’s Uchino Masaaki! And oh my goodness, Matsu Takako’s otosan is in this movie too!!!! Lol. Okay, so to others he’s known as Matsumoto Koshiro, revered actor and the current head of Japan’s premiere kabuki clan — and a living national treasure in his own right. But to (my fave J-actress) Matsu Takako he’s simply… Pops. Hmmm… <KimuxMatsu Shipper Alert: I wonder if Kimura will go to the premiere – ostensibly to support his mate Goro… and I wonder if Matsu will likewise be there for her Pops. Will they meet on the red carpet, will they will they??? Oh, and leave the spouse behind, Matsu. I know Kimura always does. *nasty laughter*>
11. Epics. When you take a good story and tell it on a grand scale – with the impressive set pieces, a multitude of extras, ferocious battles scenes (and at least a couple of Braveheart moments), lotsa things blowing up, a sweeping, dramatic score, and yes, heroism and sacrifice in the face of insurmountable odds – just pray that all these elements come together for the perfect fit. Of course, it goes without saying that credible and consistent characterization and plausible storytelling should be prioritized over production size and gloss, but what I’m driving at is that when the storytelling aspect is done well, then the satisfaction derived from a film increases exponentially when the format is a full-blown epic, literally speaking.
12. Nakazawa Toshiaki. The Thirteen Assassins co-producer was also behind the 2009 Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film, Okuribito / Departures [click to read my review], so I’m pretty confident that this chanbara is in good and able hands.
13. Did I say Yamada Takayuki? Heh heh heh.
Here’s my fave piccie of the man, filched — er, borrowed from Yoko-chan’s blog:
What did I say? You slay me every time, Yamada Takayuki. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
Photo & info credits: animefact.wordpress.com, asianmediawiki.com, nipponcinema.com, twitchfilm.com
Video credit: dyreashling42 @ Youtube.com