And this is the same man who made “Audition”?
Yes, but don’t worry: He just saves most of it for the second half. Rest assured, heads will roll, literally.
See the film
for its visuals, not for its story. Martial arts films rarely are imbued with much in the way of plot, and this one is no exception, pitting the titular lucky number of samurai against a power-mad ruler more arrogant than evil. Miike spends much of the first hour setting the pieces up on his expansive chessboard, and the second hour letting them fall where they may, in one glorious, extended battle sequence.
You expect swords, and you’ll hear plenty of clanging, but perhaps not the archery and the flaming bulls. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that latter element in a movie. That’s about the only element of innovation; the rest is Asian Fighting Epics 101, but I mean that in a nice way. Miike’s hour of power is so relentless, so real, you’ll be as worn out as the warriors (but alive at the end). Blu-ray’s crispness really sings its praises.
By staying grounded in realism (save for maybe the rape victim toward the beginning; you’ll know what I mean when you see it), “13 Assassins” is arguably Miike’s most accessible work yet to wide audiences. Anyone familiar with even part of his schizophrenic filmography knows that’s saying something. —Rod Lott