AS­SAS­SINS,

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in­ter­ested, and adept at chore­ograph­ing the type of large-scale ac­tion — “TO­TAL MAS­SACRE,” in the scrawled de­mand of a mu­ti­lated vic­tim — associated with such direc­tors as Kurosawa and Peck­in­pah.

Set in 1844, about two decades be­fore Feu­dal Ja­pan evolved into a cen­tral­ized em­pire, “13 As­sas­sins” (a re­make of a 1963 Ja­panese film) has a large cast but a sim­ple story, as Shin­za­e­mon (Koji Yakusho), an aging sa­mu­rai, is hired in se­cret by a gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial to as­sas­si­nate the sadis­tic Lord Nar­it­sugu (Goro Ina­gaki), a rapist and mur­derer who can­not be re­moved from power by con­ven­tional means with­out threat­en­ing the au­thor­ity of the shogun sys­tem.

Shin­za­e­mon re­al­izes he likely will fail, be­cause Nar­it­sugu is pro­tected by a lit­eral army of sol­diers. Even so, he rel­ishes the as­sign­ment: “How fate smiles on me. As a sa­mu­rai in this era of peace, I’ve been wish­ing for a no­ble death.”

Shin­za­e­mon re­cruits a crew of fight­ers that num­bers 13 when it is joined by an un­couth moun­tain man (Yusuke Iseya), armed only with a sling, who of­fers a cri­tique of his no­ble com­pan­ions — and of the code-of-duty genre he finds him­self oc­cu­py­ing — when he com­ments: “Do only sa­mu­rai mat­ter in this world?”

Few of the heroes in this “Dirty Baker’s Dozen” have dis­tinc­tive per­son­al­i­ties, so their deaths lack im­pact, even as we ap­pre­ci­ate the spec­ta­cle. Mi­ike seems more in­vested in the de­pic­tion of the per­ver­si­ties of Nar­it­sugu, who was “born with a vi­cious na­ture” and a “lust for flesh and dis­hon­or­able con­duct.” In one scene, the evil lord uses liv­ing peo­ple for bow-and-arrow tar­get prac­tice.

In Ja­panese with English sub­ti­tles, “13 As­sas­sins” is ex­clu­sively at Malco’s Ridge­way Four.

— John Bei­fuss: 529-2394

Mag­net Re­leas­ing

Yusuke Iseya and Takayuki Ya­mada are two of the “13 As­sas­sins,” di­rected by Ja­pan’s pro­lific Takashi Mi­ike.

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