NYAFF '11 REVIEW: Thirteen Assassins: Director's Cut

Sure, we can call it a Director's Cut. It's true enough; it is the director's preferred cut. Or we can just fess up that it was a mistake when they cut 17 minutes out of the movie to create a shorter "international version" to sell outside of Japan. Unfortunately for Takashi Miike / samurai movie fans in the United States, Magnet Releasing only has the rights to that 126-minute cut, and that was the one released theatrically back in May. It's also the cut that will be released on DVD and Blu-ray next week. To get those 17 minutes intact, fans will just have to settle for importing releases from Japan.

Unless you're in New York this weekend, that is, in which case the original Japanese cut will be screened under the Thirteen Assassins: Director's Cut banner at the New York Asian Film Festival.

I'd already reviewed the movie for the site earlier this year, prior to the US release. Needless to say, I saw the Japanese cut. It was no surprise to find out that missing scenes are mostly from the calm before the storm. The shorter version cuts down the pacing of some scenes and erased the levity of Miike's brazen sense of humor—most glaringly is the omitting of a ridiculous scene set in a brothel where one of the "assassins" goes through all the girls, before moving on to anally raping an old man in comical fashion. On one hand, a sorely out of place scene is gone to keep the tone more consistent; on the other hand, that sounds too much like a stifling of Miike's natural groove.

Either version, it's a pretty great film, but it's nice that NYAFF went with the original. Here is what I wrote about it previously...

* * *

Though primarily known in the West as a gore-happy filmmaker who rose to international fame with films like Audition and Ichi the Killer, Takashi Miike is an uber-prolific artist who has made a film in every genre, including several children's movies. Yet Thirteen Assassins is the most polished, straightforward film I've seen from him, even with violence-a-plenty. There's very little trace of Miike's usual weirdness (save for one out-of-place comical sodomy scene), as it's just pure action movie.

It's a remake of a 60's movie and supposedly a true incident, but Miike seems to take cues from Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, as well. In an age of peace, the Shogun's sociopath younger brother travels the country raping and killing a large number of people at will, yet no one dares defy him. Knowing that this maniac is next in line to become Shogun, the Shotgun's advisor orders a retired samurai to assassinate the young Lord immediately. The first hour or so of this two hour movie is the gathering of the thirteen assassins. Twelve old, bored or green samurai, plus one tough rascal they meet on the road. Their plan is simple: ambush the Lord's convoy and do a direct hit.

The last 50 minutes (yes, I went back and timed it) of the movie are absolutely incredible. 13 guys on a suicide mission against the Lord and his 200 bodyguards, set in an emptied and booby-trapped village. It's literally non-stop action, as Miike shows the entire battle in real time, from the assassins' declaration of their mission, to the survivors' tired walk through the bloody war zone. Only a master filmmaker can pull off something like that without it being redundant and stretched out, and this isn't at all.

It's classic samurai action movie, and one of the best the genre has to offer in years. Miike shows a veteran's sure hand in the first half, showing his grasp on dramatic shifts that he so rarely gets credit for. Then he cranks the pace to 11 in that 50 minute set piece. Thirteen Assassins is simple, but relentlessly thrilling. It's hard to imagine it not becoming a new classic.

"Thirteen Assassins: Director's Cut" is playing Saturday, July 2 at NYAFF.

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Jul
01
2011
Arya Ponto • Contributor

As former Editor of JPP, Arya likes to entertain peeps with his thoughts on pop culture, when he's not busy watching Battle Royale for the 200th time. He lives in Brooklyn with a comic book collection that's always the most daunting thing to move with, and writes for Artboiled.com.

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