The prospect of bonkers director Takashi Miike directing a Seven Samurai-style samurai flick seemed like one awesome idea. Like Tarantino making a gratuitous war comedy/thriller or Takeshi Kitano taking on the blind swordsman himself!
So has Akira Kurosawa been bettered?
Not quite, but 13 Assassins is certainly right up there!
In the first half of the film, Miike takes the time to introduce Goro Inagaki's antagonist: a guy pretty much as delightfully evil as it gets. A mad, cruel, heartless serial killer, you can't wait for Koji Yakusho's assassins to get rid of him.
The titular assassins are introduced one after the other brilliantly in the fashion of the Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven: it's a classic build-up complete with montage, emotional conflicts and power speeches!
Then, in the second half of the film, the assassins' plan goes into practice and soon enough they take over a village where the main battle takes place. Without spoiling it, let me just say that all the cliches and dramatic twists and turns you expect from a samurai film are all there. But with neat little variations and Miike's own brand of disturbing violence.
Had the film ironed out some of its most familiar elements and replaced them with more of Miike's usual madness we could have had our new Zatoichi: a classic samurai flick which feels completely fresh, original and retains all of the director's own characteristics.
That said, as a homage to Seven Samurai, 13 Assassins is pretty perfect and definitely one of the best of the genre: great story, great cast, great everything.