Director Takashi Miike, he of insane shocks fame (see Audition and Ichi the Killer for examples) gives us something more conventional here - dare I say, old-fashioned. Doesn’t mean it’s not lacking in shocks. While not on an obvious horror bent, Miike has not softened in his approach. The body count is high and the blood flows freely. Some of the imagery is give-you-nightmares gory.
Said assassins’ target is unhinged psychopath Lord Naritsugu Matsudaira (Gorô Inagaki), a feudal lord threatening to bring chaos to these ahem, peaceful times. The man is so evil, had the likes of Ghandi been in the audience even he (as we all were) would have been baying for the man’s blood. Ageing samurai, Shinzaemon (Koji Yakusho) is hired to terminate his command with extreme prejudice and recruits a team of samurai badasses to do just that.
It’s an oft-seen emblem but one I’ll never tire of: a group of outnumbered men facing certain death for a noble cause. An obvious comparison is Seven Samurai but I like to think of it more as The Wild Bunch with swords. It’s also a witty script that maintains the samurai ethos and still speaks to philistines like me.
Except for a moment of unnecessary, and glaringly-obvious, CG animals, the film is very pure. Unlike the otherworldliness of Crouching Tiger and Hero, this is more grounded in reality. (It is based on a real event.) Doesn’t mean to say it isn’t a spectacle. It is. The climactic battle is relentless.
Michael Bay sprang into my mind while watching (although I tried to fight it) namely, his destruction of in a recent little film based on a popular child’s toy. Actually, I’m proud to say I haven’t seen Transformers 3: The Search for Plot but I hear it similarly builds to a wild climax. That, I hope, is where the similarity ends. The slow pace of the build-up makes this climax so much more satisfying. (Although, the samurai recruiting scenes are very cool in their own quiet way.) The ultimate battle is structured beautifully. Each different fight is unique and leaves you screaming for more cinema like this. Chicago