Japan is always very well represented at the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF). 2011 was a standout year for Japan with films by legendary directors Takashi Miike and Takeshi Kitano – 13 Assassins and Outrage. These somewhat violent epics were balanced by two contrasting love stories Hanezu and Norwegian Wood (based on the novel of the same name by Murakami Haruki) and a fun documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi.
Space prevents a review of all films, so I will focus on the one that had the most impact for me, 13 Assassins. If you are thinking a bloody samurai epic is not your cup of (Japanese) tea, then this will be the film to change your opinion. Fans of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954) will be instantly engaged. Although a remake of Eichi Kudo’s 1960’s film of the same name, and with influences from Kurosawa, Miike has made this film his own; a perfect film, emotive, beautiful to watch, finely acted and with strikingly original battle scenes.
The film’s story is basic: 13 lawless samurai (ronin) are to assassinate Lord Naritsugu, the Shogun’s evil younger brother. Naritsugu is undoubtedly the most maliciously evil ‘bad guy’ ever to infect a screen. Although some scenes of pure evil are hard to watch, they are vital to the film. Naritsugu’s actions create in the viewer an immediate attachment to the outcome -never have I watched a film and wanted the good guys to win as much as this.
The film presents different interpretations of bushido, the way of the samurai. More than the clash of swords, this is the clash of ideologies, and the final battle is an ultimate prayer to honour.