A great swordsman defeats an entire army of thugs who murdered his sister, then is made immortal by an old woman, and this entire backstory only takes up the first twelve minutes of the movie. Miike wasting no damn time with this one, supposedly his hundredth film, though I’d like to see what list they used to calculate this, since IMDB considers Pandoora a movie, and counts MPD Psycho as three movies.

Anyway… fifty years later, the “itto-ryu” is a supervillain samurai clan killing all the dojo heads in the Tokyo, including the parents of this girl Rin, who reminds our man of his sister, so he agrees to take on the gang. Rest of the movie is a series of high-energy fights, one-on-one and one-on-hundreds, against badasses with a variety of weapons. I found Sukiyaki Western Django too tiresomely goofy, 13 Assassins too classy and Hara-Kiri too faithful – this one’s just right.

Our heroes:

Clan leader Sôta Fukushi:

Our immortal hero is Takuya Kimura (Faye Wong’s bf in 2046, voice of Howl, star of two separate movies called Hero), Rin is the voice of Mary, and the fey cult leader starred in As The Gods Will. That leaves all the specialty assassins:

Kuroi Sabato (Kazuki Kitamura of Miike’s video game movie Like a Dragon) wears Shredder headgear, goes down first. Magatsu (Shinnosuke Mitsushima of the next Kore-eda movie) has long spiky hair and a sweet facemask. Shizuma Eiku (Ebizô Ichikawa, main dude in Miike’s Hara-Kiri) is a white-haired immortal who knows how they can be killed (bloodworm poison!). Makie (Erika Toda of the Death Note series) wields a double-edged spear and changes sides, and Shina (Hayato Ichihara, bullied boy of All About Lily Chou-Chou) is a blonde dude who focuses on killing the girl even when the army is attacking. Chiaki Kuriyama (Gogo in Kill Bill) is a government spy with long blonde hair, and Tsutomu Yamazaki (Goro in Tampopo) leads the government army, which needless to say in a Miike film is no better than the murderous cult. With no main-cast crossovers between this and 13 Assassins, it looks like Miike is trying to turn every actor in Japan into a badass killer.

Maatsu:

Makie:

Willow Maclay on her blog:

Miike doesn’t pull any punches as things reach a climax (with a few bloated, unnecessary side plots here and there) frequently zeroing in on Manji’s immortal body as it falls apart, but impossibly perseveres. When Manji finally confronts the man who wronged Rin … he’s barely a man anymore, more zombie than alive, and there is no elegant duel between sword wielding warriors. It is merely an act of execution, a job being completed, and a loss of life. It is with blunt honesty that Miike displays this final dance not as something worthwhile or justifiable, but another violent act in a long string of violent acts that Manji has committed during his lifetime, and some day Rin will die because of his actions.

Finally, Live-action Teen Cartoon Miike gets mixed-up with Bloody Horror Miike. Starts off in a Battle Royale classroom, a fake-looking CG toy playing a game of freeze-or-die with the terrified suit-wearing students, until sole survivor Shun (Sôta Fukushi of Blade of the Immortal) pushes the button on its back. He meets up with the survivors from other classes for the next challenge, basketball vs. a giant cat in the gym, where we meet ruthless brown-haired Amaya (The Great Yokai War star Ryûnosuke Kamiki), then Shun is paired with his ex Takase for a round-robin guessing game, then she’s killed in the next round, in which a truth-obsessed polar bear gets them to turn on each other. Finally a rooftop-sunset game of kick-the-can pits Shun against the transparently evil Amaya. All this is taking place inside a giant alien cube hovering over major cities, which has kidnapped and murdered all the country’s children in order to teach a valuable lesson spoken by a wise old dude at the very end, which I spaced out and didn’t pay attention to.

I started watching Masters of Horror shortly before starting the movie blog, so in my season one round-up, three episodes are mentioned but got no writeup. Well it turns out MoH blu-rays are cheap, so now I own those three episodes, and am gonna rewatch the two good ones – Mick Garris’s Chocolate is doomed to be the odd man out.

Imprint was the episode I remembered the least. I wanted Miike’s English-language debut to be better than it was, and now that I can enable subtitles I didn’t miss any part of the story, but it seems like he and writer Shimako Iwai were trying to impress by throwing in every shocking thing they could come up with: pregnant prostitute murder, sibling incest, parental rape, aborted babies tossed casually into the river, a syphilitic dwarf (actor familiar from Zebraman 2), birth defects, Audition-reminiscent needle torture, madness, hanging and strangling and… this:

But there’s great color and some arresting images – more than any other MoH episode, I’d guess.

And the actors all acquit themselves well enough with the English dialogue, even native speaker Billy Drago (Papa Jupiter in The Hills Have Eyes Remake). Drago has made his fortune and returned to Prostitute Island to rescue his lovely Komomo (Michié of R100) but is told that she’s dead by a facially-deformed woman (Mystery Train star Yûki Kudô), who proceeds to tell him why, changing the story multiple times making herself more and more guilty of Komomo’s torture (at the hands of an evil needle woman played by the author Iwai) for supposedly stealing a ring from the house madam (Toshie Negishi of Over Your Dead Body and Audition), until Drago has heard enough stories, murders the woman and goes to jail.

Cannes Month continues. This played there in 2011 – in 3D! The 3D would’ve added some novelty to a remake which seems to have none at all, unless we’re counting that it’s filmed in color. Scene-for-scene redo of the original, well-acted and shot (but the original was well-acted and shot), kinda languid in the flashback-heavy middle, and with a less biting ending.

Motome (Eita of Memories of Matsuko) had a desperately sick wife (Hikari Mitsushima of Love Exposure) and baby and needed doctor money, so he did a dishonorable thing, telling the local samurai house that he wanted to commit seppuku at their house so they’d pay him to go away. But they’d decided to make an example out of the next sap who tried this, and since Motome had done another dishonorable thing – selling his sword for food and secretly substituting a wooden one – he’s forced to die an agonizing, splintery death while his family succumbs to illness at home.

So the dead wife’s dad Hanshiro (Ebizo Ichikawa, later in Miike’s Over Your Dead Body) visits the house a couple months later with the same seppuku story in order to get an audience and shame them for what they’ve done. Per an IMDB comment (I know!) the film argues “that honour is ultimately irrelevant in the face of social suffering.” It’s a compelling story, but during hard times, the house (led by Doppelganger & 13 Assassins star Koji Yakusho) has built its fortune on the traditional ideas of honor and can’t afford to let Hanshiro’s humanist ideas take hold.

C. Huber in Cinema Scope:

Hara-Kiri [demonstrates] a classical craftsmanship few contemporary directors could ever hope to match, but at the cost of personal expression. Miike’s single-minded take on a straightforward samurai tragedy follows the original’s outlines, yet replaces its smart, suspenseful time-shifts with big blocks of flashback melodrama … the marvellous, mostly brownish palette of the interiors tended to sink in the murky fog of light reduction, making Cannes’ first 3-D competition entry a good argument against the process.

Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve watched a Miike movie. I caught the Zebraman double-feature at the beginning of 2012, and he has made nine new ones since then. Here’s one of those, a high-school horror/slasher that’s fortunately better than One Missed Call. Acting, cinematography all quite good, but the top IMDB comment “brutal fun, but nothing more” seems accurate.

Mr. Hasumi (Hideaki Ito of The Princess Blade, Over Your Dead Body) is the hotshot new teacher, good looking, sensitive to his students’ problems. He gets involved in everyone’s business, seemingly as a benevolent authority-type. Student Keisuke leads a cellphone exam-cheating ring and teacher Radio Tsurii may be blocking cell signals to stop it. Mr. Kume is blowing his student Masahiko, and Mr. Shibahara is sexually blackmailing student Miya. Rina is being bullied at school, or perhaps her jittery dad is overreacting – we’re never sure. The dad dies in a fire after Hasumi gets involved, and Hasumi “rescues” Miya but then starts sleeping with her, using Mr. Kume’s apartment, which he’s blackmailing Kume to use, and maybe Hasumi’s not such a hero after all.

I didn’t think it seemed very much like a horror movie by this point, but then Hasumi kidnaps cheater Keisuke and tortures him to death with a soldering iron. Flashback to Hasumi’s time at Harvard, during which he and another grad student went on a small murder spree. Hasumi is more ambitious now, grabs a shotgun and massacres every kid at school during a halloween-party lock-in. He basically murders everyone in the entire movie, except a couple kids who fool him at the end, then as he’s feigning insanity while being locked up, we’re promised “TO BE CONTINUED” by the titles.

After suffering through a scratchy German record of “Mack the Knife” a few times, we’re finally rewarded with an American rock version during the massacre. Oh also Hasumi’s shotgun sometimes turns into a fleshy Naked Lunchy eyeball thing that speaks in the Harvard guy’s voice.

Radio Tsurii was Mitsuru Fukikoshi (star of Sion Sono’s Cold Fish), soldering victim Keisuke was Shota Sometani (star of Sion Sono’s Himizu), pederast Shibahara was Takayuki Yamada (star of Sion Sono’s Shinjuku Swan) and one of the girls was Fumi Nikaido (star of Sion Sono’s Why Don’t You Play In Hell). Why am I suddenly getting the urge to check out some Sion Sono movies?

In the original Zebraman, made in 2005, family man Sho Aikawa is obsessed with an old TV series that’s set in 2010, the year the film takes place. This one jumps ahead to 2025. The only recurring character is Asano, the young student who shared Sho’s love for the Zebraman series, who now provides care for refugees from Tokyo. Sho wakes up, can’t remember the last 15 years (his family is never mentioned), so Asano fills him in.

Oh, where to begin? The Governor of Tokyo (Guadalcanal Taka of Beat Takeshi’s Boiling Point and Zatoichi) has renamed it Zebra City and instituted the “Zebra Time” policy, by which for ten minutes a day, nothing is illegal (cue amusing montage of violence), and the Zebra Police walk the streets in poor neighborhoods killing everyone they see.

Where has Zebraman been all this time? He was in a centrifuge run by the governor’s mad midget doctor. After years of spinning, they succeed in separating black from white. So he is mostly white, and his dark side became the governor’s “daughter,” the Zebra Queen (Riisa Naka), who is also incidentally a pop star.

And what of the alien infestation from the first film? Well, the only remaining alien presence is inside a ten-year-old girl – actually she’s twenty-five, but the force required to imprison the alien has kept her from growing. Eventually she’s sent to the centrifuge and the alien is released to terrorize Tokyo again – part of the Zebra Queen’s plan to displace Zebraman as the legendary hero by saving the city.

Where does Asano fit in? Asano (Masahiro Inoue, star of a series called Kamen Rider) and his buddy Ichiba (Naoki Tanaka) help out victims of Zebra Time, are accumulating an army of the injured to overthrow the governor. Ichiba is a Zebraman obsessive (not Asano, strangely) and once played the title character in a revival of the show. Also there’s a dark fellow with bad-boy bangs named Nimi (Tsuyoshi Abe of Initial D) who’s in love with the Zebra Queen.

Action! The Z Queen kills her rival in the pop charts and her “father” during successive Zebra Times, but can’t defeat the giant alien. She also sort of kills Nimi, and he finishes himself off. Zebraman isn’t sure what to do about the giant alien, but Ichiba remembers the final episode of the rebooted series, instructs Z to eat the alien – which he does before floating balloon-like into space.

Weird movie, then. More nutso fun than the first one, with all subtlety out the window. We get a couple Zebra Queen music videos, clips from fake TV episodes, and a “Stop AIDS” advertisement.

There was a forty-minute direct-to-video spin-off called Vengeful Zebra Miniskirt Police – why oh why wasn’t it included on the blu-ray?

Seems like an extremely good movie by about the halfway point, but it gets long and drags seriously through the second half. Still, I was excited enough about the sequel to rewatch the original.

Sho Aikawa (Scars of the Sun, Gozu) is unappreciated at home (especially by his young son, who’s bullied since his dad is the schoolteacher) and not too respected at work either, but he can escape into his hobby, which is watching the seven episodes of a quickly-cancelled TV series from his youth and making his own Zebraman costume.

TV’s original Zebraman:

A weird bit of animation:

Sho meets a mother (Kyoka Suzuki of Bullet Ballet) with a wheelchair-bound son, and bonds with the son over Zebraman. Meanwhile, a series of villains in funny costumes that seem straight out of the old episodes arrive in town. Whenever Sho faces one of them, he turns from a sad man in a silly suit into an actual superhero, culminating in a big fight against a green-slime alien overlord during which Sho can fly and briefly transforms into a pegasus zebra with a laser cannon.

Sho imagines Kyoka Suzuki as his sidekick Zebra Nurse:

Evil crab man:

Besides the long, drawn-out scenes where Sho connects with either the wheelchair kid or his own son, the movie pads its runtime with a couple of underequipped cops sent to track down the source of the alien invasion (I think they are Atsuro Watabe of Three Extremes and Koen Kondo of 13 Assassins), and a school principal (prof. Kyoto) who’s aware of the aliens and of the Zebraman connection, has copies of unfilmed show scripts that correspond to recent (and future) events.

Professor Kyoto:

Some cops:

From the writer of Ping Pong. The same year, Miike made Izo, part of Three Extremes (which I can’t remember at all) and a TV-movie sequel. Nice comic references to Ring (Zebraman fights the backflipping, well-dwelling Ring ghost in an episode) and Pulse (the principal tries to contain the aliens by sealing doors with red tape).

I’ve seen Miike do a big-budget action film with Sukiyaki Western Django, and I’ve seen him do period drama with Sabu. And both of those movies were kinda boring. So I knew not to expect the world from Miike’s 13 Assassins, despite online reviews calling it the best thing he’s ever done. He throws a few bones to the longtime extreme-cinema fans – like a tidal wave of blood when a sympathetic character gets blown to bits – but mostly it plays like a high-quality studio samurai drama. It’s classically well constructed – I’m guessing it’s this glossy lack of rough edges (what some would call personality) that has the casual Miike followers raving, but I can’t see anyone who was impressed by Big Bang Love being too wowed by this. I haven’t seen the 1960’s original 13 Assassins, but I’ve seen Seven Samurai, and if I didn’t know this was a remake of one, I’d guess it’s a remake of the other. It plays like a remake. Whiny complaints aside, it’s a fine, entertaining film. I had a good time and all.

Shinzaemon (Kiyoshi Kurosawa fave Koji Yakusho) is our hero, hired by government man Sir Doi (Miijiro Hira, star of Sword of the Beast, psychiatrist in The Face of Another) to kill an heir to the throne, Lord Matsudara (Goro Inagaki of Hypnosis, one of many Japanese horror movies I rented in a flurry back when The Ring came out). The Lord is extremely evil – rapes a girl at random then kills her husband and, for good measure, ties up his entire family and uses them for close-range target practice.

Shinz is going to need a lotta swords to take on Lord M’s army of guards so he hires 12 more guys, only a few of whom get personalities because hey, we don’t have all day here. Most of the movie is build-up as it is. He gets his hard-gambling nephew (Takayuki Yamada of Crows Zero, who will be one of the only survivors, not that he particularly earned it more than the others), a badass ronin with a spear (was his name Sahara?), a couple explosives novices, and finally Koyata (Yusuke Iseya, awesome leader of the white clan in Sukiyaki Western Django), a wild man with a sling they find in the woods. Of course Shinz has a personal rivalry with the leader of Lord M’s guard, Hanbei (Masachika Ichimura, voice of Mewtwo), in order to up the stakes.

A ton of the fighting comes down to a bunch of indistinguishable, muddy brown-robed guys slashing at each other amongst clanging sound effects and quick editing. But the best parts involve Shinz’s master plan to turn this entire town into a trap, full of spring-loaded gates, explosive-rigged houses, and flaming bulls (quite cartoony, but they got a good laugh), like Seven Samurai or Three Amigos. Fun ending – Koyata, having been stabbed through the neck to his death, shows up alive and unscratched.

S. Tobias:

What is surprising about 13 Assassins is how far it goes in upending the samurai picture. In Miike’s mind, there’s nothing honorable about the thoughtless commitment to honor and code, especially if it means protecting dastardly men who don’t deserve that kind of loyalty. With 13 Assassins, he’s made a film both punk and moral.

The actors playing Sir Doi and Otake previously worked together on a movie called Big Shitty Marathon (“Biggu Shiti Marason”).

Stylish and well shot Miike gangster film from the same year as Dead or Alive Final and Sabu. Jump cuts galore, and a badass tone that outdoes Outrage. Based on a Fukusaku film from the 70’s – Miike’s first remake? He’s done a couple more lately, with 13 Assassins and Harakiri.

Ishimatsu (Goro Kishitani, lately in Like a Dragon and Crows Zero) is already a violent sociopath when he enters yakuza life, recruited from his dishwashing job after saving the boss man Sawada (Shingo Yamashiro of the original Graveyard of Honor) from an assassination attempt. Fond of murder and rape, he fits right in, but his new bosses don’t realize just how much of a loose cannon he’ll be.

Ishi in his element:

He’s locked up early on after an assignment to kill a guy who stirred up trouble in a gambling parlor, and in prison makes friends with scar-faced Imamura. Also at some point he gets rape victim Harumi Inoue (star of Freeze Me) to marry him. After a misunderstanding when Ishi wants his money right fucking now and thinks the godfather (who is at the dentist) is avoiding him, he whups everyone’s ass, and cracks the skull of middle man Yuwada (Renji Ishibashi, below, always receiving dentist-related injuries in movies, played the mob boss who got shoddy oral surgery from Kitano in Outrage).

This is bad for sure, and it’s possible that Ishi could run some damage control or do some kind of penance, but he wants his fucking money, busts into the boss’s house and shoots Sawada, who was reaching for the cash to pay Ishi. Oops, another misunderstanding, and now Ishi stays on the run, sheltered by his friend Imamura.

I think this is Imamura, but a second scar-faced character was placed in the movie to confuse me:

A detective (Rikiya Yasuoka of Tampopo) gets involved. Goons beat up Ishi’s wife and he wails on their faces with a metal pipe. Another misunderstanding and Ishi stabs his friend. Yakuzas panic, fingers are cut off, tear gas is fired, and finally he lets himself be captured, later knocking out a guard in prison then climbing a tower and jumping to his death, unleashing a typically Miike-overkill rainstorm of blood.

B. Sachs:

What makes it different from most of its forebears is that Takashi Miike works to avoid any intimations of a narrative arc. Instead of setting up a pattern of hubris and comeuppance, Miike organizes the film as an accumulation of detail, with a special preoccupation with how things work: the way yakuza from different families forge alliances, how a prisoner can give himself salmonella to get into the infirmary, how the body reacts to heroin. For all the instructive, caught-in-the-moment observation, though, it is a frighteningly amoral film, less an object lesson in criminal psychopathology than an attempt to meet that psychopath on his level.

Ishi makes his “escape” from prison: