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THIRTEEN ASSASSINS (1963)

Prolific Japanese cult filmmaker Takashi Miike (SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO) is taking on the jidai geki genre in a big way with an internationally-produced remake of Eiichi Kudo’s 1963 samurai classic, THIRTEEN ASSASSINS.

Jeremy Thomas, the producer of nine-time Academy award winning epic THE LAST EMPEROR and associate producer of arthouse jidai geki GOHATTO, has joined forces with AZUMI producer Toshiaki Nakazawa to produce this film.

THIRTEEN ASSASSINS takes place during the era of the Shogunate and concerns 13 samurai who come together for a suicide mission to kill an evil lord.

There have been hundreds of chambara movies released in Japan. Why a remake of THIRTEEN ASSASSINS over others? That question remains unanswered but it might help to have a little understanding of the original film and its director.

Robin Gatto of Midnight Eye suggests that Kudo’s original 1963 film was something of a reworking of Akira Kurosawa’s SEVEN SAMURAI, yet darker in that it focused on the corrupt world of samurai that fostered unrewarding violence.

It was the first in a trilogy of “new wave” chambara films that Eiichi Kudo used to break away from the cavalier swordplay films that Toei had been cranking out in large volume up to that point. Kudo’s earlier jidei geki are representative of this more conventional and straight forward approach to chambara filmmaking.

Although descended from samurai, Kudo was known to have sympathies for the progressive, anti-imperialist student movements of the 1960s and this may have crept into his film trilogy, most notably in the second film THE GREAT DUEL which deals with a group of revolutionaries plotting an political assassination against the establishment.

Kudo’s trilogy ends with ELEVEN SAMURAI (1966), which seems like a reworking of the “47 Ronin” story in that it deals with 11 samurai on a mission to avenge the death of their lord.

THIRTEEN ASSASSINS (1963)

Miike’s involvement as director should ensure that the film is interesting to watch if nothing else. The man is a fount of endless creativity, sort of like Tsui Hark before Hollywood swallowed his soul.

Jeremy Thomas is an amazing producer with an incredible body of work. The fact that he’s helping Terry Gilliam take a second stab at shooting THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE after a disastrous first attempt suggests that, if nothing else, he knows quality and isn’t afraid of taking chances.

Toshiaki Nakazawa has been behind some of the more interesting Japanese action films in recent years including AZUMI, AZUMI 2, MUSCLE HEAT, and ICHI. He’s also produced several of Miike’s past films including one of my personal favorites, THE BIRD PEOPLE IN CHINA (1998).

With this talented roster and a solid chambara film as foundation I have high expectations for THIRTEEN ASSASSINS. Chinese wuxia and kung fu films have had a chance break into the U.S. box office in recent years with quality productions like FEARLESS and HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS. It would be nice if Japan could offer us something in between stuffy arthouse dramas set in the Tokugawa period and bottom-of-the-barrel tripe where bikini-clad bimbos slay zombies in a shower of cheap, video game-style visual effects.

Eiichi Kudo’s THIRTEEN ASSASSINS was released in France on DVD in the “Coffret Eiichi Kudo” box set from Wild Side Video. It’s a collection of Kudo’s samurai trilogy which also includes THE GREAT DUEL and ELEVEN SAMURAI. Unfortunately, it only ships with Japanese audio and French subtitles but resourceful computer users can find English subtitles online.

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