TOTAL MASSACRE – 13 Assassins

3 06 2015

13 Assassins (Toho Co. Ltd. - 2010)

Back in 2010/2011, I kept on spotting posters for a Japanese film being shown at cinemas in the UK. I hardly knew anything about it, but I was interested enough to keep it in mind. I did not get to see it though until late June 2012. It was on Sky Movies Premiere on a late night showing, so I recorded it and watched it later that week. I saw clips of it here and there before watching it fully; then I saw it. I was amazed at what the film was and became hooked from that first viewing. Every time it was and has been on TV since, I have just dropped watching, whatever it was I was watching at the time and immediately turned over to watch the film again, no matter where it was. It is one of the films I have watched and mentioned more than any other in the last few years and is one that remains high on my Top 10 (Non-Godzilla) film list.


Released in 2010 and co-produced and distributed by Toho, 13 Assassins is a Japanese Epic Samurai film directed by Horror Master Takashi Miike. Miike is possibly best known for his highly controversial horror movie output and has directed more than 95 films to date including the films Audition, Ichi the Killer and Three… Extremes. 13 Assassins is actually a remake of Eiichi Kudô‘s film; The Thirteen Assassins (Jûsan-nin no shikaku), which I have not seen.

Jûsan-nin no shikaku (1963)

In 1840’s Japan, during the Tokugawa Shogunate, the young, sadistic half-brother of the shogun; Lord Matsudaira Naritsugu (Gorô Inagaki) of Akashi, is responsible for a wave of horrible atrocities including murder, rape and torture which he commits at will. After Zusho Mamiya (Seiyô Uchino) commits Seppuku in protest of Naritsugu’s activities, Sir Doi Toshitsura (Mikijirô Hira) decides to take action fearing more atrocities will follow after Naritsugu achieves a higher level in power. Sir Doi seeks out older and respected Samurai; Shimada Shinzaemon (Kôji Yakusho) and provides evidence of crimes performed by Naritsugu including the Murder of Yukie Makino’s son Unume (Takumi Saitô) and the mutilation of a peasant leader’s daughter (Sakurako Moteki). Sir Doi requests that Shinzaemon carry out the assassination of Naritsugu before he can gain any more power. Shinzaemon agrees, but a fellow former student of his, and one of Naritsugu’s loyal retainers; Hanbei (Masachika Ichimura) keeps an eye on him.


Shinzaemon begins hiring other samurai to help out in the assassination plot including skilled Samurai Hirayama Kujūrō (Tsuyoshi Ihara), and Shinzaemon’s second in command Kuranaga Saheita (Hiroki Matsukata). Kuranaga brings others from his dojo too including Assistant Chief Inspector Mitsuhashi Gunjirō (Ikki Sawamura), Kuranaga’s subordinates; Hioki Yasokichi (Sôsuke Takaoka), and Ōtake Mosuke (Seiji Rokkaku), as well as Mitsuhashi’s men Horii Yahachi (Kôen Kondô) and Higuchi Gennai (Yûma Ishigaki). Hanbei continues to keep an eye on Shinzaemon, but his assistant Judayu Asakawa (Ken Mitsuishi) unwittingly sends men to attack Shinzaemon, who are then quickly slain by Hirayama. While out gambling one evening, Shinzaemon’s nephew Shimada Shinrokurō (Takayuki Yamada) runs into his uncle who talks to him about his big plan. Shinrokuro decides to join in with his Uncle’s assassination plot as it sounds promising, leaving home and his girl Tsuya (Kazue Fukiishi) who doesn’t want him to go. The following morning, Hirayama’s only student; Ogura Shōujirō (Masataka Kubota) joins up, despite Shinzaemon thinking he is too young to join such a fight. Along with him is Sahara Heizō (Arata Furuta), an elderly samurai who prefers to fight with his spear instead of a sword but requests money in exchange for his service (then finally Ishizuka Rihei (Kazuki Namioka) joins in along with Sahara too, but not on-screen). Now 12 warriors in total, Shinzaemon sets them to work. Hirayama trains them all in fighting techniques, while Higuchi and Horii train in explosives. The night before Naritsugu is due to depart Edo (now Tokyo) however, Shinzaemon still has no plan of attack and gets a visit from Hanbei who tries to warn him off.


Many days pass by until Shinzaemon finally comes up with a plan to turn the village of Ochiai – a destination on Naritsugu’s route – into a spot for an ambush and kill Naritsugu there. He enlists the help of Yukie Makino (Kôshirô Matsumoto) to block Naritsugu from going through his land in an effort to stall him. Kuranaga and Ishizuka go on ahead to Kiso to get the help of Makino, while Mitsuhashi heads to Ochiai to acquire the town from the villagers. The rest of the group set out, but after engaging in a small fight from some hired swordsman, decide to cut across country. The samurai get lost in a forest however and ask the help of Kiga Koyata (Yûsuke Iseya); a hunter who was left abandoned there after trying to have it off with his bosses daughter. With his help, he manages to get the Samurai back onto the road to Ochiai which is now in full preparation for the coming attack. At Kiso, Naritsugu and Hanbei have difficulty trying to go through the land owned by Makino who won’t let them pass. Naritsugu tells Hanbei to take the foolish path as he thinks it sounds more fun. Over the course of a few days, the Samurai prepare Ochiai for the attack, but days pass with no sign of their prey. A few days later Naritsugu reappears on the route, but with 200 men accompanying him instead of his original entourage. Shinzaemon decides to continue with the attack and has Koyata join his group making them a 13 strong force.

Naritsugu and his men walk into the village and  are quickly caught in the trap with some being picked off with ease. Shinzaemon and his Samurai reveal themselves and attack using a barrage of arrow fire quickly reducing the 200 men down to about 130. They then engage in close combat in a lengthy battle (lasting about 45 to 50 minutes). Slowly but surely, the 130 men are reduced down to a much smaller force thanks to the use of traps and techniques built by the samurai, but they too all begin to fall. Naritsugu and Hanbei, along with what’s left of their forces find a way of escaping the town, but are confronted by the only two remaining Samurai: Shinzaemon, and Shinrokuro. Hanbei fights Shinzaemon in a brutal fight, which Shinzaemon wins. Naritsugu then attacks Shinzaemon, stabbing him in the stomach, which Shinzaemon then does to Naritsugu, who succumbs to his injuries and dies. Shinzaemon then lies dying on the floor, talking to Shinrokurō before also succumbing to his wounds. Shinrokuro walks through what’s left of Ochiai, now mostly a burning wreck, but runs into Koyata who appears to have recovered from a fatal wound given to him earlier. Koyata says he will go back home to sweep Upashi – the bosses daughter off her feet – while Shinrokuro decides to stop being a Samurai, instead considering becoming a bandit and possibly jumping ship to America. They depart ways and Shinrokuro walks through the burning town. In the Epilogue it is stated that Naritsugu’s real death was covered up, saying that he died of illness and that 23 years later the Tokugawa Shogunate ends with the Meiji Restoration.


13 Assassins is technically a remake for an older film, but in turn is more than that. It’s not just some crummy excuse to produce an old classic style of film produced by classic directors like Akira Kurosawa; it’s actually made to be its own independent film. I find 13 Assassins though to be something of a weird film in some of its characters. Now while it would take a while to talk about all the samurai, they are all enjoyable to watch and have their own little moments and scenes that provide this enjoy-ability. These moments though come from moments in the big fight at the end where they pretty much die but provide enough of an onscreen presence to create a coherent and important part. Then you get the higher ranking samurai to the films cast with characters like Sahara who unlike the other samurai uses a spear to a sword. He has a great presence and is one of the bunch that you like to keep your eyes on, just for being that bit different in the first place, but you still try to figure why he’s in the situation in the first place. Then you get characters like Ogura and Mitsuhashi. Ogura who joins on the behest from Hirayama to both him and Shinzaemon, but you wonder why he wants to join in battle at such a young age when he could possibly die. He does not look all that enthusiastic and a deep level of regret and shock fills him when he makes his first kill. It’s like he’s there simply because of the appreciation his master has for him. Then you have Mitsuhashi who seems to be someone relatively quiet throughout, but you feel like he should be saying more as he has something of an experienced leader in him. But weirdest of all is Shinrokuro.


Shinrokuro is something of a mystery to me as well as a patch of irony . He is presented as a secondary protagonist, but you don’t know why as he is not on-screen all that much except when he is in battle or with his uncle or Koyata. Characters like Hirayama or Kuranaga have more air time and appeal than Shinrokuro, but why is it that Shinrokuro gets this secondary casting. From what I understand though is that he is an ironic character. He regards his life as a Samurai as something of a burden and only really uses it to get girls and money; in other words the materialization of life. He is something of a waste of his skill and feels like it was a stupid idea to go down the path in the first place, despite the fact that he is actually a great warrior. As him being the only one that survives, he gains this irony, in that out of all the warriors, it’s the one who doesn’t want to be one anymore that survives. All the others are committed in what they do, but they all pass away. Shinrokuro though does change as the fight ends, even playing with his sword and maybe seeing the attraction of it all in the first place. I don’t know really, for the most part, he is just very mysterious, and I begin to wonder why on earth he is in the film at all. Despite saying that though, he is a rather enjoyable character to watch, if not understand completely.


Next to him there is Koyata. I see Koyata as something like the role of Toshirô Mifune‘s character in Seven Samurai. He is the group’s outcast and not actually a Samurai. He is a peek into the opposite life and enjoys what he has. He finds the other warriors to be rather ignorant and continuously challenges them on the way they behave and act. While Mifune in Seven Samurai was a Samurai from the life that Koyata has now, Koyata does not dream of being one of them, but has a desire for inclusion and respect from the others and represents the need for companionship. He is a good fighter and like Sahara, uses other means of fighting than just to use the standard issue, and even tries to confront Naritsugu………………..with Fatal consequences. It could be though that Koyata is more than human, instead possibly being something of a spirit guide to the group and a reminder to them of who exactly they are fighting for. After that there is Kuranaga and Hirayama, both of whom are similar to characters from Seven Samurai. Hirayama for instance is like Kyuzo, the most skilled fighter in the group, a man who can seemingly kill most men with one slice. He is a terrific trainer and is favorable in the eyes of Shinzaemon. There is the feeling though that he is hiding something. He is committed to what he does, but he does not talk about himself all that much and you begin to wonder what is going on. His skills as a fighter are second to none though and provides to defend those in the group and even causes a mass slaughter in his own unique trap area during the battle. Then you have Kuranaga, who I think of a lot like Gorobei. He is a rather jolly Samurai who doesn’t completely have a stern expression and tries to remain jolly in most situations. He is exceedingly loyal to Shinzaemon and remains by his side during the big battle. He also has a lot of faith and trust in his men as well as a level of appreciation and care for them too.


On the other side of the conflict is the trio of Hanbei, Naritsugu and Asakawa. Asakawa does get a considerable amount of time on-screen despite not saying much. He is a loyal and tough fighter and is rather enjoyable as a supporting character, despite having something of a limited vocabulary. Naritsugu is a nicely and well-designed character. To begin with you don’t see him but you hear about him a lot. You get the idea that he is a truly bad man from what he has done and how people talk about him, but when you see him properly for the first time, a different perspective comes to light. Given to how he looks particularly in his age, he is something more of an ignorant and spoilt child. Because of who he is, and who he is related too, you get the knowledge that he gets whatever he wants. He is a man with a lack of Morales and is served and waited upon by others, No wonder then, that if he looks at something and wants it, he gets it, even if that means committing an act of atrocity. For the most part he is quiet, and only speaks when he wants something or to voice his ever important opinion. He is though a very good villain as you really do despise him for what he has done, but also the way he acts. There is no sense of emotion or care or sympathy for him, making his death, all be it a very dramatic one, all the more satisfying.


Hanbei though isn’t necessarily a villain, but I think he is more the main protagonist than Naritsugu. Hanbei does have morals and understanding, that can be seen and he also has a sense of regret and disappointment as to what his master does. But on the other hand though, he is a committed and dedicated servant and so even if he has any regret for his master and himself, because he believes that a samurai’s job is to obey his master, he won’t try to stop it. Hanbei though has a much better physical onscreen presence than Naritsugu and because he is more vocal, he is a better antagonist than a supporting character. His devotion also brings him to blows constantly with Shinzaemon and is a great balance to him. While Shinzaemon is this easy-going like character, Hanbei is more frustrated, angry, and a much stricter person and is a great character to contemplate both of them.


In my opinion though, the best character by far is Shinzaemon. Since watching this film, I consider Koji Yakusho one of my all-time favorite actors. I just got into his character and acting so much from this film.. Shinzaemon is not ruthless, mad, angry, frustrated or anything that could be seen as bad. He is actually very respectful. His faith, trust and respect for those around him is admirable and  second to no-one else in the film. He has great admiration and appreciation for those around him and believes in them enough to trust that they will do their jobs well. He doesn’t look like the kind of man who is struggling from anything except his choice of path and want of a noble death, but while he has a calm exterior, this desire takes hold very early as he jumps at what he believes is the right opportunity to end it all. For his part though, he is just generally a nice person and someone you would want on your side. He is also a strong and knowledgeable tactician, coming up with the plan of attack and a great teacher and friend too. Just from the first second he appears to his last few moments, he was just this extremely enjoyable character, and the most stand out cast member of the entire film (in my opinion).


The film makes great use of a combination of superb editing (from Kenji Yamashita) and minor moments of special effects to produce rather interesting scenes. One of the most stand out of these pieces is an interesting blend of both of these plus some terrific cinematography. Basically, Yukie Makino is about to commit Seppuku and the shot is done well enough that you see the swipe of the sword go past and through his neck, giving that interpretation, but then it is edited as to quickly change scene so as not to see his head come off. It’s a really amazing scene and well worth looking out for. The film has some other terrific moments of effects too like the burning charging cows and the explosion rain of blood onto a building near Shinrokuro. The fight and battle sequences are terrific, and great care has been taken to make them look authentic, but also carry little touches of humor here and there. The battle at the end – lasting close to an hour – is the film’s major climax. I have seen it many times before, but am not bored once. Even after seeing the film more than 10 times over, I begin to discover moments I had not really spotted before or saw previously, and it continues to get more exciting. Seriously, a battle that long, and that small in terms of scale and size, I still do not get bored of it. While some people may consider it to be a bit long, I think it’s better for being that long in the first place instead of just a quick 5 – 10 minute duel.


13 Assassins soundtrack (composed by Kôji Endô) is really enjoyable. It’s in a parallel style and look to the period its set in and feels similar to the themes and soundtrack of other classic samurai films. Some points give a serious note, while others are more moments of reflection. Scenes such as the construction of Ochiai into a trap, Naritsugu’s Entourage, preparing for the attack on Ochiai and the Samurai preparing to leave offer varying forms of music for different perspectives in those kinds of situation. Even the end credits continue to deliver a serious note but also provide a great score for the film to end on. All be it though, silence in certain scenes such as during the battle at the end off another perspective, therefore allowing the severity of the situation to come to light more.

Some pieces in the soundtrack I feel are a bit samey as each other, but the soundtrack really becomes its own thing when it wants too. It’s as if the soundtrack comes to life and demands attention to both the scene and itself when it wants that attention. No other piece in the soundtrack does this better than Juu. Juu is used in several occasions of high-octane action. The Samurai leaving for Ochiai, the beginning of the battle and Hirayama’s battlefield. It is by far the piece I have enjoyed the most and even listen to it when not watching the film. It really hypes up the speed, tension and is a great way to start those scenes but does no end abruptly instead continuing down it’s path until it is not needed anymore. It’s also quite dark in mood and helps to deliver the scene in the right way.

I absolutely love this film, no doubt about it. 13 Assassins tells a great story of people stepping out of the fold to deal with a terrible issue that if unresolved could mean complete and total chaos for their nation. It’s a story of unsung heroes and the monstrosities that humans can so easily become. It has great, brilliant and enjoyable characters. It features one of a kind scenes from start to finish encompassing action and drama as well as the odd moment of sheer shock horror. It boasters amazing special effects and a terrific soundtrack, all wrapped up together in a beautifully tied bundle by one of the most prolific directors to date. While there are points of weirdness in the cast, without them, it just wouldn’t be the same. Yes it’s a remake, but it’s better than most. Actually, No! It’s based/adapted/inspired from a previous piece of work, but it stands completely on and by its own merit. 13 Assassins could have just been another imported DVD film for a spot in the World Cinema section of most DVD shops, but it wasn’t. It was released outside its home nation for everyone to enjoy. Yes, not everyone will like this film. It is violent and has some truly shocking, possibly more horrible, atrocious scenes that could make some people cautious, but I stick my neck out for this film. I really do, it is a terrific film that I continue to recommend to this day. One of my favorite films to date, and will probably remain to be on my top 10 for a long time to come. I can’t stress how amazing enough this film is. 13 Assassins, at least to me, is absolutely Fantastic.


The Legacy Of Cobweb Castle – Throne Of Blood

31 12 2014

Throne Of Blood (Toho Co., Ltd. - 1957)

I’ll admit it; I don’t like the works of Shakespeare. I was spoon fed them at school a lot with plays such as Macbeth, Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. On one occasion we had to dress up as a certain character from A Midsummer Nights Dream (either Puck or Bottom for boys) and act out one of their scenes. I chose bottom and had donkey ears attached to my glasses at the time. I remember watching a film version of Twelfth Night (which I enjoyed to a point) and couldn’t find reason in what certain characters say; like a woman pretending to be a man and saying something like “If I were a woman, I’d marry you”; or another case of a bloke agreeing to marry someone he’s only just met after washing ashore on the island. In recent history, particularly at University I did some of Romeo and Juliet. Once in Foundation, and more recently in second year when we looked up different adaptations of the story; including the Baz Luhrmann Film (which on occasion has inspired me) and an excellent Dire Straits song. So while I do have the odd moment where I like the adaptations of Shakespeare, I just don’t like the original works. So I can be glad then that Throne of Blood is an adaptation.


Released in 1957 and Directed by Akira Kurosawa, Throne of Blood is an adaptation of Macbeth. Now this is not the first time that I have watched one of Kurosawa’s adaptations of a Shakespeare play. Back in late 2012 I watched (and reviewed) the rather brilliant film RAN which is based on King Lear. Since watching Seven Samurai in 2012 I have been collecting films by Kurosawa every now and again. One of the films I most wanted to see was Throne of Blood. So last week, while everyone else was out watching the 97th Lord of the Rings film, I decided to use the opportunity to watch Throne of Blood.


A chorus of singers sing about Cobweb Castle, a fort that once in a now desolate land; all that now remains is a stone plinth used as a memorial. Fog covers the land and the Castle appears. Lord Tsuzuki (Takamaru Sasaki) rules there and his outer forts come under siege from a traitor. His armies fight back however. In Cobweb forest, Commanders Washizu (Toshiro Mifune) and Miki (Minoru Chiaki) are on their way to see Tsuzuki. While in the forest however they hear loud shouting before encountering a spirit (Chieko Naniwa) in a little hut. The spirit tells Washizu that today he will become head of North Mansion, and then head of Cobweb Castle. Miki meanwhile, today will become head of Fort One (Washizu’s former post), and that his son will eventually become head of Cobweb Castle. Initially they don’t believe her and on their way to the castle they stop for a break. When reaching the castle they are rewarded like the spirit told them they would be. With Washizu now in charge at North Mansion, he looks forward to a life of peace and is currently happy with his due. His wife Lady Asaji (Isuzu Yamada) meanwhile likes what the spirit has said and begins to manipulate Washizu. When Tsuzuki visits North Mansion, Asaji drugs the guards protecting Tsuzuki while he sleeps, and Washizu murders him. Upon returning in shock at what he has done, Asaji places the spear in one of the guard’s hands and calls Murder. Washizu then kills the guard.


Tsuzuki’s son; Kunimaru (Hiroshi Tachikawa) meanwhile believes that Washizu murdered his father and along with Noriyasu (Takashi Shimura), a loyal commander to Tsuzuki try to warn Miki about Washizu. Miki however does not believe Washizu would do such a thing. Washizu is made Lord of Cobweb Castle plans to allow Miki’s son Yoshiteru (Akira Kubo) to become the next lord at Cobweb Castle, but Asaji is now Pregnant, meaning Washizu will need to eliminate Miki. At a banquet, Washizu gets drunk and begins to have hallucinations when he sees Miki’s ghost. He begins to shout and act out and unknowing reveals his betrayal. Asaji tries to pick up the pieces asking for the guests to leave. A guard then arrives with Miki’s head but says his son escaped. Asaji miscarried her baby, and a distraught Washizu heads into the forest to find the spirit again. The spirit tells him that he will not lose a battle until Cobweb Castle moves. Thinking such a thing is impossible, Washizu is confident that he is invincible.


Noriyasu’s men begin to approach Cobweb Castle. Washizu spirits the men on by telling him what the spirit told him. They all believe him and share his confidence. During the night, the men at the castle begin hearing strange noises, and then a whole flock of birds suddenly fly into the castle. Everyone thinks it’s a bad omen. Washizu though checks on his wife who has gone catatonic and tries to wash off non-existent blood off her hands.  Washizu then hears soldiers running around and sees his soldiers fleeing from their posts. They say that the forest is moving. Washizu goes to have a look and sees to his horror that the forest is indeed moving. The army of Noriyasu is using the branches as cover. Washizu’s men then turn on him, and begin to shoot their arrows at him. He tries as hard as he can to dodge them, but to no luck and eventually gets shot through the neck and dies. The scene then changes back to the desolate landscape and back to the memorial.


While it may have been an idea, to look and see how this film compares to Macbeth, I didn’t do any look back/research before writing this. From what I know however, I can see similarities to Macbeth. Washizu is Macbeth, the forest moving and the character of Lady Asaji is Lady Macbeth while Miki is Banquo, (however it was my dad who pointed that out to me). The spirit in the forest is the strange women from Macbeth and the story is basically the same as Macbeth rising to power. The film though as when I look at it, not as in looking for similarities, but as its own standing, is quite interesting.


The film tells a story of a man, a great soldier and a loyal commander, who is driven to insanity through the manipulation driven by his wife and later the desire to keep hold of his kingdom. The decent of this man continues as those trustworthy around him begin to split from him which eventually leads to his demise. The part of this character is played brilliantly by the great Toshiro Mifune. This is not the first time I have seen Mifune in action, and since watching Seven Samurai have seen him as my Favourite actor. He is easily the best person for the role of Washizu as his commanding and domineering presence on-screen is well done. But he can also get mad and in Throne of Blood though we see how a person descends into madness. First through regret of actions, through to desire, lust and then insanity. To begin with he is a very respectful man, he is the epitome of a protagonist, but by the end he is very much the Antagonist, and while the story to continues to revolve around him as the central character, he is now the villain and gets what’s coming to him.

Toshiro Mifune

In the same league we have the character of Lady Asaji who from the moment you see her, you can tell she is not very nice. Much like Lady Kaede in RAN, she is a schemer. She has begun plans to make sure the spirits visions come true and begins the manipulation required to get Washizu to do what she wants. She wants these things for him as much as her, but likes the idea of being in control and wants her family to remain on the throne. From early on, she is a key figure and remains so until just before and a little bit after she miscarried. From the onset though, you have no sympathy for her.


In an opposite fashion though there is commander Miki. He is a very likeable person and appears to be a true friend to Washizu and remains loyal to him until the end. While he does not understand the visions of the spirit, he just goes along with it until they become real. Miki from start to finish is a character you do care about as he has a very nice on-screen presence and is in no way ruthless, but it does become predictable what’s going to become of him.

Toshiro Mifune and Minoru Chiaki

I do feel like it is rather surprising though that Takashi Shimura does not get more of a prominent role. In the past particularly if you take films like in Ikiru, Rashomon and Seven Samurai, Shimura has had more prominent leading roles, but while he gets a good amount of screen time, I think it’s rather surprising that he doesn’t get more. While he is noticed at the beginning at the council, and then rides in at the end to bring down Washizu, it just feels like for most of it that he simply disappears. Other characters in the film such as Yoshiteru and Kunimaru don’t really have much of a part to talk about though, for the most part it’s not down to them to save the day, and it rests more on the shoulders of Noriyasu to save the day. On occasion there are other cast members of note, such as the lamp bearers and the guards that stand out, but really it feels like something of a let down from some of the supporting characters in terms of the story anyway. I do like the character of the Spirit. It’s quite an uncomfortable character when she is on-screen, but that’s probably what was meant to be. When she is laughing and cackling in the forest and you can hear that, it’s almost disturbing and scary. But when she is on her own in the hut spinning the wheel you think for a moment that she might be someone else, but then discover more. Alongside that you also have Lord Tsuzuki who for his brief time on-screen is very enjoyable, particularly at his counsel during the first few moments of the film.

Chieko Naniwa

The film has a terrific setting. Filmed on the slopes of Mount Fuji, the desolate landscape allowed the use of fog which is used to great extent as it allows moments of lost and confusion while also giving moments of reveal too. When Washizu and Miki first see the castle and it is slowly revealed in the background while they talk as well as when they are lost in the fog is a great scene. The first moments too allow a reveal of the shrine/memorial to the castle and are used to the effect of showing what remains as well as the chaos caused from the events, even if they haven’t happened yet; add to that the scene of the forest moving shows a real sense of mystic energy as it makes the tree look like they are actual beings and not just men using them. Other uses of weather such as rain and thunderstorms are put to good use when used in Cobweb Forest when people are running around and when the Spirit laughs in the early moments of the film. The area of North Mansion as well as the mansion itself is actually very beautiful and shows an element of peace just in its look. Effects aren’t just limited to weather though. The ending scene with Washizu being shot at with Arrows; the arrows are real. Mifune wanted the use of real arrows (choreographed) to be shot at him to give a real sense of terror in his actions. Now while I am as of yet unsure about the one through his neck, the effect works brilliantly and is one the film’s best moments.


When it comes to the film’s soundtrack, it’s hard to say much about it as I don’t remember many scenes where it is used. The singing at the beginning is apparent, as too is the arrival of Tsuzuki at North Mansion, but the film for me anyway appears to use mostly sounds and not much in the way of actual music. The films theme though is pretty good. While it may not be as grand in its element with other Masaru Sato pieces, particularly later ones like Yojimbo and The Hidden Fortress. The theme however has the mystery/mystic element about it before it eventually feeds into the singing but while it is certainly different, and that is the best way to describe it, it’s also very enjoyable from start to finish, even if you only here the first few seconds.

The film does struggle when it comes to pacing though. The early moment of singing, through to the Lord’s counsel of the attacks and then to the scenes from the forest to the attaining of North Mansion are very enjoyable and stand out as moments I really enjoyed. However I think the story of the film begins to get stagnant from then on. There was a long pause from when Washizu and Miki first meet the spirit, and then things really do slowdown from North Mansion onwards. The film picks up at moments though, with scenes like the horse ride chase, and scenes leading up to the banquet. But then they begin to stagnate again with points of me wondering how long the film had left (or that may have been me getting a little tired) and only picking up again as the film drew closer to finishing. For most of the film, there are some really good points and the pacing remains equal, but some scenes have long pauses and gaps where almost nothing happens for a while and this sets it off. While those moments may want to show elements of peace in the chaos, when they’re too long, you begin to notice it.


Throne of Blood does have its issues, from certain moments of lack of cast and pacing, but throughout I did enjoy it. While I don’t think it stands out from other Akira Kurosawa productions such as Seven Samurai, Hidden Fortress or RAN, I did enjoy this, even if it is based on a piece of work by Shakespeare. It features another great performance from the terrific Toshiro Mifune as well Minoru Chiaki. While it is in fact an adaptation of a play several hundreds of years old, I think it also stands out on its own two feet as something which can be enjoyed by itself (the adaptation point does allow for some clarification if it gets a little confusing). With scenes of action intermixed with scenes of drama and great weather effects; Throne of Blood is definitely worth a watch and while it may appeal more to people who prefer drama over action, there is still something for everyone, even if the title is somewhat off-putting.


Your Choice 5 (Part 1): Classics

16 09 2013

Your Choice 5

About this time every year since 2010 I have given my readers the opportunity to choose a film for me to review. On the previous 4 occasions (ok, one of them was mid 2011), I have reviewed High School Musical, Cloverfield, The Host, Slumdog Millionaire and Star Wars Episode 1. Now we arrive at the 5th vote, but over the course of the series, the voting numbers have gone down and so I have decided that after this vote, I might give it a break for a year or so and then bring it back eventually (or maybe do it next year anyway if this year does well or if I want to, but more likely I will only bring it back next year if the votes from this year go up from previous years). So because of this, I have decided to do something really big this year. Classics and Future Classics. I have chosen 7 films which are highly regarded as some of the best films produced in the entire history of Cinema, but that’s not all. I have also chosen 7 films produced this current century (2000 onwards) which I think have great potential in becoming classics themselves. For this post we are going to concentrate on the Classics, check back later in the week for the Future Classics.

Easy Rider (Columbia Pictures - 1969)

Easy Rider: Directed by Legendary Actor Dennis Hopper and starring both him and Peter Fonda, Easy Rider is a road movie about two bikers going on a journey across south of America. A landmark film of its time and helped to get the wheels turning for New Hollywood Era. the film explores many issues that were happening around America at the time including Drug Use and the Hippie Movement. The film’s soundtrack is also of particular note as it used music from bands including Steppenwolf and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Easy Rider is quite possibly the Greatest Road Movie of all time.

Jaws (Universal Pictures - 1975)

Jaws: Steven Spielberg‘s 4th film as well as in many ways being the archetype film for all future Summer Blockbusters, this classic film about a monstrous Shark who comes and terrorizes a small town in America, is one of the most critically acclaimed, successful, well-remembered and much-loved films of all time. Based on the book of the same name by Peter Benchley, and starring Roy Schneider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw, the film looks to the more human side of the film than like with some other monster movies who just look at the Monster. The film also has one of the cinema’s most well known pieces of music produced by John Williams who would later work on Star Wars. Almost 40 years on since it was produced Jaws still captivates movie goers around the world and on many occasions, may still scare people into not going back in the water.

Jurassic Park (Universal Pictures - 1993)

Jurassic Park: 18 years after frightening people with Jaws, Steven Spielberg would once again captivate audiences with one of the worlds most ground-breaking, modern films. Based on the book of the same name by Michael Crichton, the film follows a group of explorers played by Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum who travel to a safari park where Dinosaurs have been brought back to life, what could possibly go wrong. With another excellent score provided by John Williams and special effects that shook up an entire industry and still to this day are pretty much unmatched in sheer scale and the experience it gives, Jurassic Park has thrilled audiences world wide and has created a Legacy that continues to live on to this day in the hearts of many a movie goer.

The Hidden Fortress (Toho Co., Ltd. - 1958)

The Hidden Fortress: From Legendary Director Akira Kurosawa comes The Hidden Fortress. Released four years after Seven Samurai, the Hidden Fortress is a classic in its own right. Starring Legendary Japanese Actor Toshirô Mifune, the film follows the journey of a couple of fools as they are enlisted by a General to help escort a princess through enemy territory. The films score was produced by Masaru Satô who in the space of 44 years working with Toho would produce 300 film scores. 19 years later the film would become a huge influence to director George Lucas when he produced his first Star Wars film, but in many a way, The Hidden Fortress is better than Star Wars.

The Lion King (Disney - 1994)

The Lion King: Produced at a time when Animated CGI films had yet to make an appearance, this animated musical would become on of Disney’s most well-loved classic films. The film follows young lion Simba on his quest to take his father’s place and prevent his uncle from taking over the land (I had to look that up as I personally have not seen The Lion King). The film was scored by Hans Zimmer, one of his earliest successes and at the time of its release became the second highest grossing film after Jurassic Park. While films of this style don’t really exist anymore these days, films like The Lion King continue to make an impact to audiences worldwide.

Top Gun (Paramount Pictures - 1986)

Top Gun: Directed by the Late Great Tony Scott and starring Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer, Top Gun follows Navy Pilot Maverick as he is given the chance to train to become one of the best pilots in the navy at the Navy’s Fighter Weapons school. An action film with scenes of Drama intertwined, the film is amazing shot with many amazing airborne shots as well as those that are more grounded on Earth. included with that is one Amazing and well-remembered soundtrack by many moviegoers that like the film has essences of both Drama and Action. Top Gun is a shining example of Action and Drama films but also a crowning achievement for Tony Scott.

Zulu (Paramount Pictures - 1964)

Zulu: Directed by Cy Endfield and starring Stanley Baker and the breakthrough performance of Michael Caine, Zulu is one of the great War Films. Set during the events of the Battle of Rorke’s Drift where 150 British soldiers defended their small outpost against the might of 4000 Zulu Warriors. With an amazing cast of actors, great scenes almost unparalleled to any other film produced to date and a soundtrack which consisted of both studio produced music from John Barry and the voices of the actors playing the Zulu Warriors many of whom were descendants of those who fought in the great battle. Zulu is a one of a kind film that should be viewed by all, one of the real Greats.

So those are the films of the first part of this vote to choose from. So how do you vote, well that’s easy, just choose which film you would like to see reviewed (or if unsure, you can choose 3) by clicking in the required fields on the poll and then click vote. While the poll does block previous voters, you can always get over that by using another computer, so if you really want to see your choice win, just keep doing that. The poll will be open from now until the stroke of midnight into the new year this coming December 31st. So, take a look at the choices above choose one (or two or three), and place your vote. Check back later this week for part 2, in the meantime, get voting, Thank You.


Akira Kurosawa’s Masterpiece – Seven Samurai

7 07 2012

It is one of cinemas all-time Greats. It is rated as one of the Greatest films in the history of cinema by Reviewers and Audiences and that is not just a statement, here is the proof:

  • “voted number one in an audience poll conducted by MovieMail in 2000”
  • “the highest reviewed movie at Rotten Tomatoes with the highest number of votes that is listed as an action movie on the site”
  • “Cited as the greatest Japanese film ever; at number 12, it is the highest-ranked Japanese and Asian film on the Internet Movie Database‘s “Top 250 movies” list. It ranked, for the first time, at number 3 in the 1982 Sight & Sound Critics’ Top Ten Poll, appeared on the Sight & Sound Directors’ Top Ten Poll in 1992 (ranked number 10), and tied for the highest-ranked Japanese and Asian film in 2002 (ranked number 9). It is ranked number 2 on Rotten Tomatoes‘ top 100 foreign films, and number 1 on their top 100 action/adventure films. It was also voted the “Best Japanese Film ever” in a 1979 Kinema Junpo critics’ poll”
  • “It is now regarded by some commentators as the greatest Japanese film ever made, and in 1979, a poll of Japanese film critics also voted it the best Japanese film ever made”
  • “Ranked #1 in Empire magazines “The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema” in 2010”
  • 96% Audience Rating on Rotten Tomatoes
  • 100% Rating on Rotten Tomatoes

I myself have known about this film for many years but it was usually only in passing, I did not know what the film was about at all. Then when I heard about it more and more I decided that I wanted to see it. It has been many years since that time but at long last I have seen it. The film came at in interesting point for Japanese Cinema. It had only been a couple of years since the occupation of Japan by American forces had finished and as such restrictions on what films Japan could do had been lifted. Film Company TOHO were very successful during WW2 making propaganda films but when Japan lost they could not do that anymore. In 1954 TOHO would once again make a name for themselves with the release of not 1 but 2 films which would become legends in their own rights. The first one was Seven Samurai; the second was the original Godzilla.

The film’s director Akira Kurosawa was already an internationally acclaimed director after his 1950 film Rashomon. In 1952 he took his writing team to a 45 day secluded residence to write Seven Samurai, the plot was really simple, production was difficult. The film spent 3 months in pre-production and 1 month in rehearsals. The films rising production costs were a continuous issue with TOHO wanting Kurosawa to shoot the film at the studios while Kurosawa was adamant to shoot the film on location. The film took a year to shoot with the mixed issues of costing’s, production and the director’s health. The film opened half a year after it was supposed to be released, but as soon as the film was released all these issues did not matter thanks to the films instant success. The film was later remade in 1960 in America with a western style, the film in question was called  The Magnificent Seven.

Akira Kurosawa

The film is set 400 years ago (from 1954 at least) when a group of bandits who ransacked a village earlier in the year have decided to return to it when the village harvests its barley. When one villager hears this he tells the other villagers. The villagers are greatly upset at this and consider many ideas of what to do including suicide. They go and speak to the village patriarch Gisaku (Kokuten Kodo) who tells the villagers to get Samurai. The village is poor and unable to afford warriors but Gisaku has the idea of paying them with rice because they will eventually have to eat. A group of villagers go to the town but are initially unsuccessful until they see a Samurai who kills a thief who kidnapped a child. They follow him into the town but he too is followed by a younger warrior and a warrior acting very strangely. The Samurai Kambei (Takashi Shimura) is a ronin (master less) and initially unsure of the idea and states that he can’t do it by himself. He eventually agrees when he realises that the villagers are sacrificing their rice for the Samurai.

Kambei and his new young warrior Katsushirō (Isao Kimura) start looking for Samurai and test them by hitting them on the head. They eventually recruit Gorōbei (Yoshio Inaba) who is a skilled archer and acts as the second in command, Shichirōji (Daisuke Katô) who is a former lieutenant for Kambei, Heihachi (Minoru Chiaki) who is a less skilled fighter but keeps their spirits up and Kyūzō (Seiji Miyaguchi) who declined originally and only really cares about perfecting his skill but later changes his mind. Kambei tries to get rid of Katsushirō for being too young but his mind changes after the other Samurai talk to him. The night before they set out, a group of men from the town say they have seen an incredible fighter who also got drunk. This fighter turns out to be the strange acting Samurai from earlier, he shows the others his nobility papers but it becomes obvious that he has stolen them. As the Samurai leave for the village the drunken Samurai follows them. He is later inducted into the group and is given the name (Toshiro Mifune) Kikuchiyo.

The Samurai train the villagers with Bamboo spears and look through the village to figure out the best way to defend it. Kikuchiyo finds a large amount of Samurai equipment which was taken from a killed Samurai. Six of the Samurai don’t like this but Kikuchiyo tells the other six that the farmers have hard lives and the Samurai class makes life hard for them, it is here that Kikuchiyo early life as a farmer is revealed, as a result of his words the other six turn their anger into shame. Katsushirō begins to fall in love with a girl called Shino (Keiko Tsushima) who has had her hair cut to make her look like a boy so the Samurai will be fooled. Heihachi creates a banner for the Samurai to help raise their spirits which includes the symbol for Farmer, six dots and a triangle (the triangle is for Kikuchiyo).

The harvest of the barley begins and 3 bandit’s scouts are discovered. The bandit’s camp is reveled and 3 of the Samurai go to it. Many bandits are killed but Heihachi is killed to. The Samurai feel a bit down until they remember his banner which rallies their spirits. The bandits arrive to attack the village but are originally overwhelmed by the defenses and several die. Kambei leaves an opening to tempt the bandits into it; several more bandits are killed in this way. Kikuchiyo heads outside the village and manages to grab on of the bandits guns, however a couple more Samurai are killed. The night before the final battle it is revealed that Katsushirō has had relations with Shino and her father is enraged by this. On the day of the final battle the remaining bandits are let into the town to be slaughtered. However Kikuchiyo gets mortally wounded when he is shot by the bandit leader; however he keeps going long enough to kill him before he dies. With the bandits killed the Samurai have saved the village from the bandits. However, when the villagers plant their new crop, Kambei notes that it is a loss for them; the villagers still have their village while the Samurai have lost a few friends and gained nothing as well as the fact that the Samurai are merely just Hired Guns and don’t come from the village. The last shot of the film observes the burials of the 4 fallen Samurai.

While the story does look quite long it is a long film but it does not get boring for one second. Overall the film is over 3 hours long (207 minutes if you are lucky enough to have seen the entire thing although I like most people have only seen the 190 minute version – anyway the full length is longer than all 3 Lord of the Pants films, Hopefully one day I will be able to see the full 207 minute version) which is a long time to watch a film however it is worth every minute and every penny (and possibly some more pennies). The films length is also the key to its story as if it was any shorter the story would have been hard to tell in such a short space of time, this would also mean that the film would not have been as Amazing as it was. All the sitting down, numb bum is all worth it by then end.

The film’s effects are all nicely put together. While audiences today are spoilt rotten by 3D and CGI this film uses good old stunts. When the swords are used not much stabbing appears to take place but you need to remember that the swords being used are the sharpest swords in the history of the world and so if you were to simply get cut by one, it does not matter if it was just a cut because it is more than likely that you are already dead. The films set is also well made and benefits from being on location as a studio would not have the same effect. Some people today may not like the fact that it is in Black and White and not Colour, however you don’t even notice the Black and White presentation because you become so engrossed in the film you don’t even notice (STOP RELYING ON CGI, 3D, HD AND COLOUR – THESE THINGS DON’T MAKE A FILM GOOD IN ANY WAY AT ALL). The film’s soundtrack (Produced by Fumio Hayasaka) is a nice blend of traditional styles in Japan with old-fashioned instruments from the period, with particular mention going to the Big Drums. The films main theme is has a nice heroic essence about it and uses traditional instruments to make it a real part of the film, it is a piece you will want to hear over and over again.

The cast chosen for the film is a nice mix of actors who do an excellent job of looking and acting like the characters in the story. Takashi Shimura is well-chosen as the lead Samurai; the way he portrays his character is with a level head and as such is an important part for the leader of the group. Also the way he manages to plan how they will defend the village and his caring nature to the younger Samurai in the group (Shimura would also star in the Original Godzilla film seven months later along with Kokuten Kodo). Kyūzō’s (Seiji Miyaguchi) character is another excellent portrayal as a master swordsman who also appears to have a level head and when he is fighting appears to be in the moment and not straying his head mind thinking about what has past or is to come. Keep special notice of both Gorobei (Yoshio Inaba) and HeiHachi, these 2 are like the jokers of the group and their scenes are very good, but keep special watch for when they smile, they both have really happy smiles.

For me Toshirō Mifune’s character Kikuchiyo is my favourite character. While Kikuchiyo starts off a bit odd and strange it is this that draws your attention to him and then as the film progresses you start to warm to him more and more as his caring side for the villagers and for the other Samurai starts to reveal itself. So it is hard at the end when he gets killed because you want him to survive the whole course of the film but when he does get killed by the chief bandit you can still see his heart as a warrior when he fights dying long enough for him to kill the bandit chief. To me he is like the muscle of the group, while the others have their own skill in battle; Kikuchiyo is a Ferocious Wildman in combat. Kikuchiyo is one of the reasons why the film should not be dubbed. While it may be hard to constantly have to read the dialogue, dubbing can’t bring out the passion. When Kikuchiyo talks about the farmers being murderers but have been forced to do it by the Samurai, he shows the angry passion and in a way talks sense. The farmers have killed Samurai which is not noble but the Samurai burn their villages, steal crops and rape women, the farmers are not just going to let them do this, they have to defend themselves somehow and so while it may not be noble it is self-defense, and when Kikuchiyo explains this in an Angry Rage, he makes the six other Samurai see sense. But while he does have this side to him, he has another more caring side. In the early stages of the Samurai training the villagers, Kikuchiyo strikes a friendship with a farmer called Yohei (Bokuzen Hidari). As the film progresses there are several comic scenes with Yohei and Kikuchiyo and a couple of scenes with Yohei’s horse, Kikuchiyo also helps the farmers out when they harvest their rice. Kikuchiyo cares about the farmers and in some way the other Samurai despite being seen as a somewhat joke by them earlier in the film. When Heihachi dies there is some sadness at the loss of the one who keeps their spirits up but Kikuchiyo remembers his banner and thrusts it onto one of the houses for the Samurai and the villagers to look at and raise their spirits in battle. While Kikuchiyo is rather odd, he is by far the merriest of the group and in some way one of the most caring and so while he is this fierce warrior he is a Good person, a Great Friend and a Fantastic Warrior.

All of these things are brought together in a brilliant story by the fantastic directing of Akira Kurosawa. Perhaps this is why Seven Samurai is regarded as his masterpiece. Seven Samurai while coming out in 1954 is the best film I have seen this year. In the space of about 3 months I have seen 3 incredible films and all of them are in my top 3 favourite (Non-Godzilla) films with Seven Samurai taking the top spot. While I could talk about this some more I don’t want to spoil it for you and me. Seven Samurai is an EXCELLEANT Film that does not get boring, it is everything you would want in a film and more, so if the recommendations at the top of the post are not big enough for you to watch it, a recommendation from me definitely is, so no excuse, GO AND WATCH IT, SERIOUSLY, STOP STALLING AND WATCH IT, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR, WATCH IT, WATCH IT, WATCH IT, SO WHAT IF IT’S LONGER THAN LORD OF THE RUBBISH, SO WHAT IF IT’S IN BLACK AND WHITE, WATCH IT, IT IS ONLY £12 FROM HMV, JUST LOOK IN THE WORLD CINEMA SELECTION OF HMV AND IT WILL BE THERE AND IF IT’S NOT JUST GO TO THE DESK AND DEMAND A FREE COPY FROM THEM FOR INCONVENIENCING YOU, STOP STALLING AND BUY IT AND WATCH IT, WATCH IT, WATCH IT, HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU, WATCH IT, IT’S ONLY £8.38 ON AMAZON, £14.99 IF YOU BUY THE AKIRA KUROSAWA SAMURAI COLLECTION WHICH INCLUDES OTHER GREAT AKIRA KUROSAWA FILMS, YOU CAN WATCH THE FULL 207 MINUTE VERSION IF YOU BUY THE CRITERION COLLECTION BOX SET, IT’S £9.29 WITH FREE DELIVERY WITH PLAY.COM, WHY ARE YOU STILL READING THIS, YOU COULD HAVE ORDERED IT ON AMAZON BY NOW, WATCH IT, WATCH IT, WATCH IT, WATCH IT, WATCH IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Places Where you can buy Seven Samurai on DVD:



Honda vs Kurosawa

2 07 2012

No it is not a Japanese Monster Movie or a boxing match between 2 Japanese Directors.

As part of this Post a Month in June thing I thought I would do a list of the Top 10 Asian Directors, but there was a problem with this, I kept on discovering critically acclaimed directors I have not heard of and so doing something like that would take a lot of time and research. However I always told myself that these 2 would be in first/second place. But the question is, who as in Who is the Best.

First off, for those of you who do not know who either is I would like to ask, Why have you not heard of them? These 2 are Icons of Japanese Films. They were both really Good Friends, they both worked at Toho and they both produced some of the best well-known films in Cinema History.

Ishirō Honda was one of the Big Four (Tanaka, Honda, Ifukube and Tsuburaya) and was one of the main pioneers of both Japanese Science Fiction and Japanese Monster Movies. He is probably best known (of course) as being the Director of the Original Japanese Godzilla film and six other Godzilla films along with other monster films including Mothra, Rodan, Atragon and Space Amoeba. Other films he was known for included The Mysterians and The H-Man. Honda was also well-known by the people that knew him to have an Amazing work ethic.

“He would stop drinking his beloved saké while shooting and wouldn’t touch a drop until the film was finished”

– Kimi Honda

“Mr Honda was always cheerful and a perfect gentleman. He never became angry. He was a wonderful director to work with”

– Haruo Nakajima

“Monsters are born too tall, too strong, too heavy, that is their tragedy”

– Ishirō Honda

Akira Kurosawa

Akira Kurosawa Is well known in Cinema full stop. He has worked with people like Ishirō Honda as well as Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese. He is well known for his collaborations with actor Toshiro Mifune. His films include Rashomon, Drunken Angel, Yojimbo, Ran and of course Seven Samurai.

Kurosawa is well known as being a hands on Director. All aspects of shooting had his involvement. He believed that the script was the absolute foundation of the film. During the production of Seven Samurai he had six notebooks which he used to detail the biographies of the Samurai. When it came to the villagers in the film he made the actors live and work like them to make the story as realistic as possible. There were also many recurring themes in his work in the relationship between the Master and the Disciple as well as the Heroic Champion.

In 1990 he was given The Lifetime Achievement Award at the Academy Awards and was posthumously named Asian of the Century in the “Arts, Literature and Culture” by Asianweek.

“I am proud of nothing I have done other than with him.”

– Toshiro Mifune

“He has had a tremendous influence on my life and on my work and on my sensitivity toward visual story telling”

– George Lucas

“Being an artist means not having to avert one’s eyes”

– Akira Kurosawa

Choosing between these two is quite hard. In one corner I am sort of patriotic to Honda because of The Godzilla films, but that is not really a way to choose. So while it does pain me to say this it is understandable. While Honda was a pioneer under his own right Kurosawa is the best because of the amount of detail and hard work he has put into his films cannot be ignored. If we were to look at his Masterpiece Seven Samurai as an example. It is an incredibly long film, possibly the longest film in Cinema history but it is packed with so much content that it does not get boring once and is filled with some character you can’t help but care for. So while I prefer Godzilla and Honda to Seven Samurai And Kurosawa, Kurosawa is not only the better director in this instance but also the Best Japanese and Asian Director in Cinema History.


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