The first in our Head to Head reviews where we compare two films together that share a common story line or setting ,in some cases one Old and one new release ,other times it may be two films made in the same year .
Copyright © 2010 Toho Japan / Artificial Eye UK /Magnet Releasing USA
Takashi Miike is a director who has been involved in more then 70 features that are as diverse as they can be.
Now in this film which is a remake of a film of the same title made in 1963 .Takashi Miike has taken a genre that is steeped in Japan's history and that has many films depicting the many famous stories of Feudal Japan.
As I write this the film still has yet to be released on public media and cinema screenings are still happening (which is where I viewed this latest Samurai adventure) .It's also a time when more and more films of this nature are stemming from Japan once again after a lapse into some very obscure topics in film from the region.
Now Not having seen the original film and not having access to it in any form I can not compare this to the original,but then maybe going over the same story twice would be slightly tedious anyway. So for our first in a new series of reviews on site I will be doing a Head to Head with another Samurai Film that for one is regarded by many as the ultimate Samurai film and two ,bears many similarities with in certain parts. The film of course is ''Seven Samurai'' .
But first we look at Takashi Miike's new feature ,Now the film is based on a true incident which happened in the mid 1800's .It was a time when the rule of the Shogunate was waning . ( towards the end of the 1800's the Meiji Era would begin) .
Now the story centres around that of the current Shogun's Brother (son of the former Shogun).The young upstart Lord Naritsugu who to feed his boredom uses his power to inflict ill doings on who ever he wishes ,he rapes and kills his fellow followers and tortures the locals for pleasure to excite his ego.
It's this complete lack of compassion for any body but himself that alerts a government official to his actions and believes that something must be done to stop the carnage this madman is unleashing. What's more things could get worse as Lord Naritsugu is due to be inaugurated in to the Shogun Council which once in motion would spell certain disaster for the country and the people.
Now it's a time of the clans and Lord Naritsugu is part of the Akashi Clan and each Clan has their own states ,by upsetting one State the ruling governors of those States could impose bans and travel embargoes on other Clans. It’s these procedures which will prove useful in the plan ahead. .
The official in hand has approached a ageing Shogun Samurai named ''Shinzaemon '' ,disgusted by the acts of violence and criminality of Naritsugu he agrees to help by assassinating Naritsugu before he gets inaugurated. To do this they must get him in a vulnerable place ,which won't be easy.
Shinzaemon sets about recruiting fellow Samurai to the cause ,one of which is his student Hirayama a Ronin Samurai with a fierce edge and a tough exterior ,he also introduces his own student to the cause. Shinzoaemon's own second in command ''Kuranga'' also joins and also brings along his student who in turn bring their own students. Add to this a Aging Ronin who requires a payment upfront for his services so he can clear his debts and set things straight or his family,a Young inexperienced Samurai with enough courage to make up for his lack in actual battle .And backing up the pack is Shinzoaemon's own Nephew ''Shinrokuro'' who has turned his back on the way of the Samurai through drink and Gambling .
Now they are twelve and their first mission is to decide where to hit Naritsugu and his 70 guards who are on route to Akashi. Once they decide the place they send two comrades to a nearby town on route to stop them from letting Naritsugu passing through ( thus making him take a diversion) .
The night before they leave Naritugu's Samurai Hanbei visits Shinzoaemon to see if he can stop the proceedings ,but the two are old classmates and their destiny is written ,Hanbei leaves vowing to meet Shinzoaemon in battle.
The Shinzoaemon Samurai plan to set a trap in a town called Oachi. They must ride hard to get in-front of the Naritsugu entourage. With two men down who have gone to buy out the town to stop entrance to Naritsugu the remaining Samurai are ambushed on route ,but deal with their interruption with ease.
Knowing that Naritsugu will keep an eye on them they head into the forest only to get lost ,but they find a man tied up in a tree ,cutting him down they are greeted by one Kiga a hunter of quite jovial spirit who claims to be a direct descendent of Samurai Linage . For food he will guide them to their destination.
Meanwhile NARITSUGU has been turned away on route and his lead Samurai Hanbei knows it's all a set up. Our intrepid Samurai have now reached their goal of Oachi and with help of the towns folk fortify the town with traps and explosives.
Now it's just a waiting game and when time passes and Naritsugu fails to show they think maybe they have underestimated their opponents ,to some point they have though Naritsugu is on his way ,scouts reveal that his seventy strong guard is now over 200 as Hanbei has taken no chances and got back up from other regions.
Deciding to go ahead with the plan our mighty 12 Samurai and Jovial Hunter making 13 will lay siege to a entering Army led by Shinzoaemon's classmate Hanbei .
As the entourage enters all is calm and they get half way through town when Hanbei notices towns people fleeing into the woods.,realizing it's a trap he haltingly hails a retreat but it's to late as constructed fortified fences have been dropped on to the town breaking the 200 strong into groups that can not reach each other.
At first they take out many with arrows, explosives and traps but once they have depleted and made weary the army they each enter Sword in hand to battle alongside their comrades in arms to get to Naritsugu (their goal) . As Hanbei tries and finds a way out for his master ,Naritsugu looks on at the carnage in amazement ,having never seen battle and living a luxury life.
As each of our heroic Samurai take on the horde of Shogunate Samurai the display of swordplay on hand is quite devastating to watch with limbs akimbo and fear on the faces of both sides shows that in battle there are no real winners only survivors .
Hirayama has one of the most brutal and energetic confrontations as he fends of what looks like a endless crowd of Samurai ,telling his student to take care of the dregs that get past him.
Of course the odds are against them as our budding 13 start to fall,but the last battle will put in motion the fall of the Shogunate and settle old scores between Shinzoaemon and Hanbei.
Now as for the film in general ,i must admit it's been a while since I have seen a new Samurai flick with such scope (forgetting the many classics ) ,Now maybe it's because they have not been made or they have not had lot of publicity. Probably the last ones where ''Twilight Samurai'' and '''When the last Sword is Drawn'' ,the latter which I hold in pretty high esteem ,because of it's heavy character led story,culminating in fully entertaining piece of celluloid that makes you think.
With 13 Assassins Takashi Miike has achieved a truly brilliant piece of filming which captures a true Samurai spirit. But and it's probably a but more akin to the length of the film . The international version runs at around 126 minutes ( the one I have watched) . There is how ever a longer 141 minute version for Japan which I can bet has better Character profiling to it .
You see the one thing with so many characters to get to grips with ,the time allotted getting to know each one is minimal compared to other films of it's Ike .Don't get me wrong I loved this film the lead up to the battle is intense and you could have not hated such a nasty character as ''Lord Naritsugu''.
I just feel that with more character development it could have had slightly more impact. In a bid to make these films more international friendly they get edited down to their former self. Thing is people who go and watch or purchase these Subtitled style of films want one thing and that's the full story.
The big up for the film is of course the battle which goes on for some 40 odd minutes culminating in a feast for your eyes ,though some fast editing is used which I could have done without. .
So all in all a great film from Takashi Miike. And I look forward to his next couple of films ,Hari Kiri,(another Samurai remake) and his kids film Ninja Kids which looks pretty funny and cute.
Score out of Ten = A Honorable 8
Review Date: 24-05-2011
American Release Poster (Above)
|Directed by||Takashi Miike|
|Produced by||Toshiaki Nakazawa (Sedic International) |
Jeremy Thomas (Recorded Picture Company)
Takashi Hirajō (TV Asahi)
|Screenplay by||Daisuke Tengan|
|Story by||Shōichirō Ikemiya|
|Starring||Kōji Yakusho |
Gorō Inagaki (SMAP)
|Music by||Kōji Endō|
|Editing by||Kenji Yamashita|
|Studio||Toho Company |
Recorded Picture Company
|Distributed by||Toho Company (Japan) |
Artificial Eye (UK)
Magnet Releasing (USA)
|Release date(s)||September 9, 2010 (Venice Film Festival) |
September 25, 2010 (Japan)
|Running time||141 minutes |
126 minutes (International version)
Copyright© 1954 Toho / ©1956 Columbia
Many may say what's to review about the classic ''Seven Samurai'' ,But with new films appearing that are seeing a increase of stories based on the subject of the Samurai ,i thought it a good idea to see how the film stands up against the new kids in town so to speak.
Of course I am doing this review in a Head to Head with Takashi Miike's new film 13 Assassins. ( review above).
Set in the Warring States period of Japan in 1588/89 ,the film which stars Toshiro Mifune and directed by Akira Kurosawa is a vast look at the life of the Ronin Samurai..
A group of farmers in a village are worried about their crop as bandits have stolen their crop in previous times ,when the bandits arrive again to plunder the village , but seeing that they have recently done so ,they vow to return once the farmers have harvested their crop.
Village elders decide they must stop this robbery of their crops , and come to the conclusion that they must hire Samurai to protect their village and crops , Some villagers are reluctant as Samurai are known to have taken villagers women for their own pleasure , others say that they have nothing to offer the Samurai ,the village elder tells them to find hungry Samurai ,they will fight for food.
Into the city our chosen ones go to hire Samurai who are willing to fight for food, most of their encounters brushed of ,sometimes with quite harsh consequences.
But luck has it that they witness a lone Samurai who has agreed to rescue a young boy , the Samurai by the name of Kambei poses as a monk by cutting of his Top Knot ( the Top Knot is sign of honor and dignity of the Samurai) .
Being successful the Samurai collects his reward and goes on his way ,behind him follows a Young Samurai who confronts him and requests to be his disciple ,asking his name the young man replies Katsushiro ,Kambei says he may walk with him as a friend ,and so of they go ,the farmers see this as their opportunity to ask them to help them ,to their surprise the Samurai agree .
Of course Just two Samurai won't be enough to hold of a gang of marauding bandits. They must recruit more Samurai who are down on their luck .
With the help of the villagers they propose to interview so to speak ,willing Samurai ,with Katsushiro's help they coax other Ronin Samurai to their cause .four in total . Kambei thinks Katsushiro is to young and inexperienced and that he should live a little. But the villagers and the others convince Kambei to take him.
A other man by the name of Kikuchiyo ,who swears blind he is of Samurai linage and has been rejected as a mad man by Kambei follows them as they leave for the village , in fact he follows them straight to the village ,badgering them on the way.
When they arrive at the village the village seems deserted , the villagers are in hiding and will not come to greet the Samurai who have come to assist them ,upset the Samurai are disgusted by the lack of reception they have received . Taken to the village elder he explains that the villagers fear them and the men think they will rape their woman and take advantage of them. With this revelation a crazy racket sounds ,it's Kikuchiyo ,he has sounded the village alarm ,all the villagers appear thinking they are being attacked.
With this the crazy Kikuchiyo gives them a lecture on their manners and how they should have welcomed the Samurai to their village .
Impressed by Kikuchiyo's unorthodox way of getting across their disgust, Kambei lightly accepts Kikuchiyo as a useful allies. It's here our six Samurai become Seven and the seen is set.
As the villagers begin to trust their new found friends ,they begin to make preparations for the onslaught which will happen. . The Samurai's reward is shelter and White Rice which is most precious to the villagers. The villagers survive on Millet,which has little to no nutritional value and eating alone for to long ,you will eventually grow ill.
Kikuchiyo bonds quite well with good few of the villagers ,due to his eccentric nature ,they even disclose to him that they weapons and swords plundered from dead Samurai ,some of which they have killed to protect themselves.
When the Samurai hear of this they are annoyed and feel betrayed, Kikuchiyo sends a backlash at them for it is their like that have made the villagers so fearful for their lives ,this confirms to Kambei that kikiuchiyo is a farmers son as he has witnessed the plights of the poor peasants.
After a reconciliation ,though one of the Samurai wanted to kill all the villagers upon hearing of their deeds.
In a bid for unity ,one of the Samurai makes a banner for their honour ,on it he draws six circles and at the bottom a big Triangle.
He explains that each circle represents each of them ,with this Kikuchiyo pipes up ,but there are seven of us ,oh Kikuchiyo ,as your so crazy you are represented by the Triangle. With this they all laugh . It's this light hearted humor ,which is quite a surprise when viewing for the first time , and still makes me laugh when I see it today.
In preparation they build fortifications and train the Villagers in combat.,they set up traps and make a plan of action.
As the time comes when the Bandits will strike ,a couple of Bandit scouts are caught and killed ,one revealing the whereabouts of the Bandit camp, a a group of Samurai agree to strike out on their own , they kill a bunch of bandits but one of the Samurai are killed by Bandit gunfire.
Kambei displeased by this ,puts across that they have endangered the rest of them by their actions ,as by not working in conjunction with one and other puts them at risk and now they are a man down.
But in a bid to pull together they join together as the bandits attack ,using a construction of a speared wall they will cut of the bandits from one another,dealing with the ones that get in and then letting others in once they have dispatched the previous bandits. A clever ingenuity but one which will not play out for the whole battle.
During the fight Villagers and fellow Samurai are slain ,in the end the villagers are safe ,but the Samurai have lost friends and the remaining ones are no better of since when they came .They leave the village with their friends graves buried on a hill top of the village so the Villagers will always remember the Samurai who came and defended their village and died in the process.
There's no doubting that Seven Samurai is still the ultimate Samurai film ,it's the bonding of the Samurai an how you are introduced to each and every one in a detailed way, some you will like more then others ,and different viewers will have their favorites I'm sure.
There are some great scenes ,that set apart the story of saving the village ,like the villager who makes his daughter cut off her hair and pose as a boy as to not get raped by the Samurai
Thing is the poor girl gets set upon by Katushiro who mistakes her for a Village Boy skipping out of work ,only to find out in a rough and tumble that she is a woman.
Other scenes like the scene with Kikuchiyo played brilliantly by Toshiro Mifune ,where he is represented by the Triangle on the banner is a welcome break in the serious melodrama .And in another Kikuchiyo is like a child in a toy shop when he discovers all the Plundered Samurai treasures and parades in front of his fellow Samurai is a classic as he ends up sulking to himself,before verbally laying into Kambei and the others.
You could go on as in over 3 hours of viewing ,scenes instilled in your mind ,and what’s more you would never realize that 3hours have passed without a clock in front of you. You know some films drag so much that after 30 minutes it feels like you have been there for 90 minutes and you waiting for the end.
That's shows the brilliance of Akira Kurosawa's story telling ,he grabs you,Holds you, and captivates you till the end of his features.
You also have to note that at the time it was Toho's most expensive film ,with Toho going on at Kurosawa about the cost and halting production, he never worried ,he new they would resume as they had spent so much ,that they where not going to write it of. He would go fishing and return when they upped the budget once again.
You see Kurosawa did not want to shoot the village on the Toho set ,he had a purpose built village made which cost a lot ,but gave the film more authenticity.
Toshiro Mifune would recall as the battle scene was supposed to be shot in the summer ,but because of the raising budget and having to wait for Toho to go ahead ,the scene was shot in February ,and Japan in February is a freezing cold place. Mifune said he had never been so cold .
Score out of Ten = A character driven 10
Review Date 31-05-11
So in conclusion Seven Samurai does not pip 13 Assassins to the post ,but wins outright with our highest score. In it's present form with a good near to uncut version available ,running at a a mind blowing 207 minutes ,it truly is one of the ultimate Samurai films if not the Best .
With it's in-depth look at the characters and the way you bond with the characters Seven Samurai remains one of the all time greats .
Seven Samurai's battle scenes are gritty and heart wrenching to watch as villagers and Samurai fend for their lives ,the battles look so real that you feel the actors must have been relieved to finish filming. Add to this the light hearted moments that show the Samurai as people who like the villagers just want to get on with life and survive ,whether it be through joking and drinking with friends or helping one another through hardships.
13 Assassins show the view from the Samurai's eyes looking on to the lives of the local peasants, they seem slightly removed from the Samurai , in reality most Samurai probably where in a different World ,But in Seven Samurai our Ronin understand the hardships and Bond with their countrymen.
13 Assassins would have got a great 9 if it was not missing the 40 minutes from the Japanese version and until that version is released in the West with English Subtitles ,i rest my case.
BFI film poster (above)
Original Japanese Poster
|Directed by||Akira Kurosawa|
|Produced by||Sojiro Motoki|
|Written by||Akira Kurosawa |
|Starring||Takashi Shimura |
|Music by||Fumio Hayasaka|
|Editing by||Akira Kurosawa|
|Distributed by||Toho (Japan) |
Columbia Pictures (US)
|Release date(s)||April 26, 1954 (Japan) |
November 19, 1956 (US)
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