The frenetically productive Japanese director Takashi Miike has done everything from hypersadistic adult thrillers (Audition, Ichi the Killer) to funky but wholesome children's fare, reminiscent of Robert Rodriguez (Zebraman, The Great Yokai War). So it's no surprise he shows such facility with the samurai epic: this slam-bang remake of a 1963 feature by Eichi Kudo builds slowly, accumulating characters and themes, then explodes into a prolonged and masterful battle sequence inside a deserted town. The opening scenes, which introduce the wicked Lord Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki), brother of the shogun, recall Miike's sicko films with their ghastly images of murder and mutilation; the ensuing ones, in which a rogue samurai (Koji Yakusho) recruits a team of assassins against the lord but wrestles with his own betrayal of the samurai code of obedience, introduce enough thumbnail portraiture and internal conflict to keep the movie engrossing on a character level even after the swords come out. In Japanese with subtitles.
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