Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Takashi Miike: Reconstructing Samurai (13 Assassins)

The glorious union of style and substance that was crucial to the samurai film seems to have drifted into eternity with the passing of one of the masters of world cinema, Akira Kurosawa. The hefty pathos and intrinsic urgency of his craft remain a wonder to behold, but can any filmmaker since hold a candle to him?

Kurosawa was inspired by the elegiac westerns of fellow master John Ford, and in homaging Ford via samurai-cowboy fantasia, Kurosawa in turn fueled the fiery passions of future auteurs of gunslinger/swordplay cinema, namely John Sturges, Seijun Suzuki, Sergio Leone, Zhang Yimou, Ang Lee and countless more. So goes this undying, incomparable artform, a celluloid organism taking flight for life before our very eyes.

Takashi Miike pays tribute to Ford, Kurosawa and the countless martial arts and spaghetti western spectaculars of the last century with his unbridled and singularly rousing mini-epic, 13 Assassins. In form a throwback, a deceptively simple tale of bloody revenge and divine retribution, in function a laudatory celebration of what it is to create, to feel passion, to be cinema.

To go into the basics of the familiar plot would belie Takashi's gift as a supreme artist, much maligned and misunderstood, at the top of his game. I myself have misunderstood his motives and message in the past. Ichi the Killer I dismissed as sadist drivel, Sukiyaki Western Django as a beautiful bore. But take a second, even third glimpse at Gozu, Dead or Alive, the hauntingly disturbing Audition, and you may, like me, find the heart and soul of a powerful storyteller, exorcising the demons of this world through the examination of violence as an extension of power.

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