12 November 2012

A Dog's Death

Last night I watched 13 Assassins which is a 2010 Samurai movie directed by the controversial Japanese film-maker Takashi Miike. On average, it seems that Miike releases about two or three films a year which is, to put it bluntly, completely fucking mental. There was this one time that I was climbing around the bathroom, pretending to be Tarzan when I slipped and actually cracked my cock on the sink. Because of this, I then had to go and spend a few hours in hospital whilst doctors made sure that I didn't die of a bruised knob-shaft. In the time it took me to tit about and waste valuable NHS time and money, Miike would probably have completed about nine new movies. If I have any national pride, it's in our ability to dismiss a huge achievement because it dared to impress us. I don't know about Japan, but over here in Britain we have a saying that says 'nobody likes a show off'.

Despite his immense back catalogue however, and up until last night, I'd actually only seen a couple of his films. Audition was one of them and is probably my favourite Japanese horror-rom-com to feature someone desperately drinking from a bowl of genuine puke. The other was Ichi the Killer which has got to be one of the most mental films of all time. It starts with its title being spelt out in real jizz and then degrades down hill from there. From those two films alone I was kind of under the impression that Takashi Miike is a man of extremes. Apparently he's also made a few kids films too which suggests that he's either a lot more diverse than I'd released or that there's a lot of fucked up children now out there.

Set in the 1840's, 13 Assassins starts with a scene in which a lone Japanese chap commits the act of Hara-kiri. This is basically when somebody uses a dagger to tear themselves open and rip their own guts out. Apparently it's got something to do with the Samurai honour code but in reality it just looks like suicide for the hardcore. According to wikipedia, “it is usually part of a more elaborate ritual and performed in front of spectators”. With that in mind I think I know exactly what I'd like to see Piers Morgan do to improve his ratings on his next show. Despite its graphic nature, Miike shows distinctive restraint here by keeping the majority of violence off screen. I guess this instead has the effect of showing us the emotional pain of the scene rather than simply shocking us with a gratuitous shot of Shogun offal. In this case Hara-Kiri was committed as a way for the character to express his disdain towards the films main villain. Thank God then that Facebook was invented so that now all we'd have to do is de-friend the cunt and tag him as a picture of a shit.

The villainous Lord Naritsugu Matsudaira looks a bit like a cheap Chow Yun-Fat action figure and really is a massive wanker. I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover but when someone practices archery by committing infanticide, I think it's safe to assume they're probably a wrong'un. In another horrendous scene we're introduced to a woman who has had her family killed, her tongue removed and all of her limbs chopped off by him. Simply because of his twatish whims, he's turned her into an orphaned, meaty, draft-excluder. On top of all that, he also likes to shag the occasional woman using the same favoured position as British personality Jimmy Saville. The immoral position of course being that there's nothing ever wrong with a good hard rape. So yeah overall, Lord Naritsugu Matsudaira is really kind of a rotten Japan-apple. Thankfully though, the noble Samurai are on hand to dole out their honourable justice which apparently doesn't require a trial or evidence but will result in an on-the-spot execution. So I guess they basically have a similar legal system to that of Texas.

The story from here on in is hardly complicated, which isn't particularly a bad thing. You don't exactly need a brain to be able to follow the plot of porn and I've got no qualms with that... Here, the first half is spent recruiting assassins and the second half is the inevitable showdown. This is all fair enough although I do question some of the manipulation used to convince people to join their dangerous mission. At one point a group of Samurai are told to fight on the grounds that, “he who values his life dies a dogs death.” Most dogs are peacefully put to sleep to avoid any more suffering when they've reached a fine old age. Kurt Cobain on the other hand had a shotgun in his mouth and then blew his fucking brains out. Unless the dog was Korean and given a choice I'd definitely go for the one that doesn’t involve Courtney Love faking my suicide.

Not that killing themselves would be a problem for any of these characters by the way. They all seem so eager to die that you could be forgiven into thinking that this film was the lucid hallucinations of fame obsessed teen girl. I'd hate to disrespect the Samurai traditions but the only time that I'm that desperate for death is when I accidentally catch a glimpse of Psychic Sally Morgans shrivelled face of bullshit. I'm usually not a fan of censorship but with its constant themes of suicide and honour, my suggestion would be that maybe we shouldn't show 13 Assassins in Bridgend. That's presuming of course that there's anyone there left to watch it anyway.

I've read several reviews of this film and the majority seem to be under the impression that the first half is a little dull. I think I'm going to have a disagree slightly but that might be a fault of my own more than anything. Admittedly it's a little slow and talky but I've not seen that many Samurai movies and so this was all quite new to me. I therefore found it all quite interesting, just as a glimpse into how that culture worked. I guess being able to see how somebody else lives is one of the great things about cinema. Another example like that could be something like City of God which brilliantly depicted life in the Brazilian slums. Oh, and there's also Lord of the Rings which taught me that all New Zealanders are hairy little midgets and also a tiny bit gay.

In regards to the second half of the film, there's no doubt that the action is both exciting and well handled. For a director more renowned for flicking body juice at the screen, the gore here is also admirably held back. In fact, there's more emphasis on kineticism and choreography than splatter and spaff. Personally, I would say that there's no doubt that here, Miike has drawn significant inspiration from legendary director Akira Kurosawa. 13 Assassins has an old school and classic feel to it that's more in line with Seven Samurai than whatever sex fuelled snuff films Miike usually seems influenced by. The final showdown involves the Assassins rigging up a town with so many traps that in the end it plays out like an ancient and lethal re-enactment of the tacky 90's game-show Fun House. If there's any mistake then it would probably be the inclusion of a herd of obviously CG'd cows that charge through the town. Having said that, it's nice to see that the herd have found work since appearing in the opening scene of Mars Attacks.

Another criticism could be that overall, the characterisation does at times seem a little bland. On Team Honour, there's thirteen individuals but only a couple of them have any memorable personality. The leader is your usual angry Obi-Wan and there's also some Japanese Brundlefly that falls out of a tree and refuses to fuck off. With long hair on top of a bald head, the rest really just come across as a gang of miscellaneous Easterners attempting mimic the look of musical comedian Bill Bailey. I realise that we don't have time to delve too deeply into every-body's back story, but as things stand they're all just a little too disposable. When people die I should feel emotion but here I just found myself ticking each new death off like a nonchalant Nazi reluctantly working the late shift in Auschwitz.

In the end, 13 Assassins is a perfectly decent action flick set up by an interesting first half of exposition and off screen mutilation. Compared to learning what's in Auditions' sack, this might not be the most memorable of Miike's films but it's still worth the ride. Also, considering how many movies the show-off makes per year, it's a shame that only a handful leak out into the rest of the world. Beyond the fun of just watching the movie, this taught me so much about Japan that I didn't previously know. I've been doing a Newspaper round for about ten years and these days I'm a little lazy with it. I'm meant to deliver about three-hundred papers but in reality I think I post about two and then throw the rest in the canal. In comparison to my act of complacent efficiency, the Samurai take their job way too fucking seriously.

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