Illustration: Adeline Pericart
We laughed, we cried, we sneaked in our own popcorn. 2011 brought with it some memorable trips to the cinema to revel in the joy of film. And so the Film Ireland collection of filmbots look back in love and recall their favourite films of the last year in the latest installment of…
‘… a delirious, ultra-violent entertainment of the highest calibre …’
Few can deny 2011 has been a fantastic year for cinema, but in the age of social media it’s rare to see a great film without expecting greatness beforehand. The only true surprise of 2011 for me was 13 Assassins, a delirious, ultra-violent entertainment of the highest calibre.
Director Takashi Miike is best known in these parts as the man behind the creepifying horror Audition, but has also shot films such as the bizarre genre-bender Sukiyaki Western Django, a retread of A Fistful of Dollars set in a Japanese/Wild West fusion world and co-starring none other than Quentin Tarantino. For 13 Assassins, itself a remake of a ’60s samurai cult classic, Miike opted for a curiously and uncharacteristically realistic style – a muddy, almost monotone image that echoes the feel of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai just as its story echoes that of perhaps Japan’s greatest ever film.
In this instance the samurai assassins are not simply defending a village against bandits but saving the entire country by slaying the sadistic Lord Matsudaira (and any of his 200-strong bodyguard who stand in their way), who is next in line to be Shogun. Matsudaira makes most movie villains look like heroes in comparison – Miike shamelessly highlights how much of a monster this man is; he uses children as archery targets and mercilessly mutilates a rape victim.
Secretly, an alliance of lords opposed to Matsudaira’s reign of madness hires noble samurai Shinzaemon to assassinate him. The weary legendary swordsman rises to the challenge and gathers eleven comrades in arms to his side and with the aid of a roguish misfit from a bygone era of banditry lays a trap for the villain and his entourage in a deserted town.
Revelling in its slow pace, 13 Assassins builds the tension and excitement over the course of more than an hour; giving each of the minor players light but satisfactory character backgrounds while raising the stakes between the main players with a decades-old rivalry between Shinzaemon and Matsudaira’s No1 bodyguard.
When the action kicks off, it is seemingly unending – a whirlwind of blades and arrows, explosions and flaming cattle. Action fans could get their fix for a month here; those of a tamer disposition will be left mesmerised by the choreography of the carnage. The thrilling tale is richly shot with incredible attention to period detail and with sound effects that rival the best Hollywood has to offer – when one character performs ritual disembowelment off-screen, you hear it so clearly you it actually pains your insides.
Old-fashioned storytelling by a modern master, 13 Assassins is dripping in action, drama and blood. Not to be missed.