(director: Takashi Miike; screenwriters: Daisuke Tengan/based on a story by Shoichirou Ikemiya; cinematographer: Nobuyasu Kita; editor: Kenji Yamashita; music: Koji Endo; cast: Koji Yakusho (Shinzaemon Shimada), Takayuki Yamada (Shinrokuro), Yusuke Iseya (Koyata), Goro Inagaki (Lord Naritsugu Matsudaira), Masachika Ichimura (Hanbei Kitou), Mikijiro Hira (Sir Doi), Hiroki Matsukata (Kuranaga), Ikki Sawamura (Mitsuhashi); Runtime: 125; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Michihiko Umezawa/Minami Ichikawa/Toichiro Shiraishi/Takahiro Ohno/Hirotsugu Yoshida/Shigeji Maeda; Magnolia Picture; 2010-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)

Miike brings to it a subversive edge.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Cult Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike (“Ichi the Killer”/”Audition“/”Sukiyaki Western Django“), feverishly, like a madman, directs thisinsane gory action pic remake of director Eiichi Kudo‘s classic 1963 b/w film of the same title, and is not timid about letting the blood flow freely across the big screen while questioning at every turn the samurai code that calls for blind allegiance of loyalty to a boss who might be evil and not deserving of such honorable treatment.It’s based on a story by Shoichirou Ikemiyaand is written byDaisuke Tengan. It follows the formula ofAkira Kurosawa in delivering a romanticized heroic samurai picture, that at the same time questions the senseless nature of warfare.Though it might look like a Kurosawa film, Miike brings to it a subversive edge of greater proportions; if you will, a passion for relentlessly choreographing graphic violence. Also, Miike’s film features perhaps the longest continuous battle scene in movie history, at least an hour or so, as we watch 13 assassins kill 200 of the villain’s samurai warriors after we dispense with the few setup scenes of why it’s a good fight, no matter how costly, to take down an evil-doer and end his reign of terror. It suggests that it’s even a better fight for the public if each side uses mercenaries.

The villain in this film is the ‘mother of all lunatics,’ a power-hungry young vermin named Lord Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki) who has no regard for human life and no decent human qualities. He is a ruthless despicable psychopathic sadist, who operates with impunity above the law, enjoys exercising his power in cruel ways, gets off watching people suffer and finds war to be like a sport.

It’s set in 1844, during the last days of Japanese feudalism, in the era of of the Shogun and the samurai warrior.Just 23 years later the Edo period (1615 to 1868) ended.

The film opens with the powerful bureaucratic council of elders, who convene after the ritual suicide of a respected clan patriarch protesting that the perverted Lord Naritsugu needlessly butchered his family members for his own amusement. Lord Naritsugu is the half brother of Sir Doi (Mikijiro Hira), the head of the Shoguns, and is thereby eligible to take a seat on the council and wage war if he chooses or enforce any laws without interference. Other cruelties by the crazed feudal lord include a peasant rebel’s wife he keeps as a human toy after severing her legs and arms, and the kicking around the floor the head of a subject the lunatic just beheaded. These and other excessive barbaric deeds cause Sir Doi and other council members to secretly recruit the great elderly samurai warrior Shinzaemon Shimada (Koji Yakusho) to gather a band of warriors to assassinate the out-of-control madman before he arrives in the protected territory of his Akashi clan and gets his seat on the council. The good samurai leader chooses 11 other samurais through the recommendation of his nephew Shinrokuro (Takayuki Yamada) and other trusted contacts. They are later joined, when lost in the forest, by a forest dwelling young mischief-maker, Koyata (Yusuke Iseya), who plays the comic relief fool when he guides them out of the forest and mocks the samurai for their arrogance but thinks it would be fun to fight with the samurais against their own and is relieved when they allow him to join the fight.

The 13 assassins will ambush Lord Naritsugu and his 200 hundred samurais led by the wily Hanbei (Masachika Ichimura), in the small village of Ochiai, as they pass there during their long trek to protected safety with the Akashi clan. Once the fight starts, Miike is resourceful in showing bloody innovative ways to kill, whether by sword, arrow, booby traps or by charging burning bulls. It’s the kind of pic where you know there will be no prisoners taken in the end and no way for any of the warriors to run away from the fight without disgracing their name for eternity, and that the battle will be realistically brutal. In other words, this is what we like to call a man’s picture.

REVIEWED ON 11/20/2011 GRADE: B     https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/