Thursday, July 21, 2011

13 Assassins (2010)

Overall Score: 6.00/10

There is a new rule in Hollywood - "If you blow it up, they will come." No need to build anything really, that just takes time and effort. No, just find it, blow it up, and people will champion you to the bitter end. Which of course only embattle your opposition, and leaves those lovable folks (like myself) hanging in the realm of in-between.

The best way I can think of to describe the impact left upon me by 13 Assassins is this: I love it far more for what it came close to achieving than what it actually achieved. Sure, everyone by now knows how amazing of a visual spectacle the grand 45minute final action sequence is. And oh boy is it ever a spectacle. Full of just about every samurai fighting style, every sword decapitation, and way of dying one would dare think of (hell you even how kamikaze fire cows), few deny the sheer awesomeness of that sequence. But in the end, that's it really. That's the sell. A movie which clocks in at just over two hours, hinges everything on the effectiveness of that battle.

But does it really work? How much of the intensity one leaves the theater with relates to the film's overall quality? Unfortunately for me, that answer is 'only a little.'

13 Assassins opens with a 'hard sell.' No sugar coating, no fluffing, no tip toeing around - right away "that guy there is the bad guy, he's the worst guy, he's everything that is evil." Now let's move on - after all we have 13 Assassins to recruit. And so our main character, Shinzaemon (Koji Yakusho), does just that. Using contacts, pupils, and a few stowaways who happen upon them, we gain our 13 assassins. So... now what? Well, we plan, right? Sort of. The plan is quite brief, "you half nobody remembers because you've only been in this two minutes will now leave to do something important, while the rest of us will stay here and gain more screen time."

Sure, there's a couple minor action scenes along the way just to give a quick fix to the adrenaline junkies of the audience, but they're rather tame and without need. Nobody of any great importance suffers, nor does anything of great interest happen. If anything, they just serve to add plot points that will never be dealt with later on and can be quickly left by the wayside.

The rest of the film is all about the action. A scene I'll be kind and leave blank for those who want to see it and enjoy without expecting too many things. Suffice to say, it saves the film.

13 Assassins' opening hour is a drag. It's a drag on the plot, a drag on the pacing, and a drag on the viewer. Not much of any great importance occurs, while we go through the motions of a select few characters being given a base trait for us to recognize them by. The one soldier trapped by his dream of power and dedication to his master. The quiet samurai seeking one great conquest before his end. The drunken womanizer seeking redemption. Of course we have our silent super soldier who wields dual swords and just walks around looking cool. All capped off with the lovable loser, Kiga (Yusuke Iseya) who is revealed in the final moment of the film to be the most interesting character of the lot, but in order for you to know that you'd have to watch the film in reverse...

All of whom do a fine job of bringing up the inevitable comparisons to Seven Samurai. Which I think is a bit unfair. Seven Samurai built the foundation for the men on a mission genre. Movies like 13 Assassins have 60 years worth of building upon it to fall back on. Which begs the question - why didn't it? Sure 13 Assassins carries the markers of Seven Samurai, but it fails to capture the quintessential essence of the original tale - the characters. Overtly cheerful, with dark pasts to fall back upon, and a solid amount of screen time each, we are given a cause to care for them. A cause to wish them well, to want for them to succeed in their mission. 13 Assassins on the other hand calls for us to want the villain to die. A fine line I grant you, but in the over the top final battle sequence, with dramatic deaths a plenty, it takes all the emotional investment out of it. The viewer is left at arms length from the people he's supposed to be championing; their deaths are merely a countdown of numbers no longer available to defeat the evil Lord Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki).

So with that element left, the viewer is stuck. They can admire the choreography, engulf themselves in the action, but anything they feel beyond that is applied more so than delivered - in my humble opinion.

Of course, with Miike at the helm you will always have an eccentric style, dark comedic feel, and plenty of violence to fall back on. Which is why the film gets a 6 instead of a 5 of lower. I know I've spent a lot of time expressing my frustration with the film, but a good deal of that is disappointment. The farther I get from the end credits, the more I feel that a truly great film was within the reach of Miike and he missed it. Not by a mile or by an inch, but just enough to leave you wondering - what if?

Film Credits: 
Directed By: Takashi Miike
Screenplay By: Daisuke Tengan
Based on a Screenplay By: Kaneo Ikegami

1 better thoughts:

Castor said...

I'm a bit surprised by the low rating. I mean, it was no where near Seven Samurai obviously and I get it that it's a pretty superficial film but it certainly was nicely entertaining, especially once we get past the first 20 minutes or so.

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