Takashi Miike is incontestably the greatest working genre director in the world, having made over 80 movies and TV series that range from modern gangster sagas to children’s films to art house dramas. This samurai extravaganza was one of his most sustained efforts, a little less woolly than his best work (Dead or Alive 2: Birds, Izo) but no less weird or exuberant.
The film is divided into two movements, a slow-building drama of political intrigue followed by a full hour of samurai combat. This distinctive structure brings together two modes of filmmaking—one based on quietude and careful compositions, the other based on spontaneous movement and a rich, shifting mise-en-scéne—into something like an action symphony. As J.R. Jones noted when 13 Assassins screened at the Music Box in May, the epic battle sequence “introduce[s] enough thumbnail portraiture and internal conflict to keep the movie engrossing on a character level even after the swords come out.” Only a man who’s directed 15 films in two years would be capable of making two movies at once.