Best Movie of 2011 – 13 Assassins

2011 has been marked by two things – I went to the cinema less and I bought more Japanese films on DVD. This is partly explained by my decision to shift the blog to focus on Japanese films and bore people to death with my opinions on them. It’s also explained by the fact that few titles released in cinemas captured my imagination this year.

There was no film like Inception that totally blew my mind as to what a major Hollywood blockbuster could do, where films could technically and thematically go and what they could visually depict. There was no film like Scott Pilgrim that appealed to the nerdy fanboy in me and showed wild visual imagination. Okay, I’m demanding.

Of the films I did write about seeing they have all been well-crafted but lacked a magical hook for me. Norwegian Wood was a visual spectacle but having read the source novel I felt that the filmmakers had excised so much source that what was left was hollow much like Tinker Tailor. The King’s Speech was a lesson in excellent acting and brilliant writing but lacked any challenging or euphoric elements which made me tackle thinking about it with any gusto. Jane Eyre captured what I had imagined the book to be like but the fire of romance was lacking. I did gain a new depth of understanding for Lars von Trier and Pedro Almodovar. When I think about it I’m left with one title that did impress me. It made me so happy to be alive and able to watch it on the big screen.

13 Assassins

13 Assassins Header

If there is a cinematic equivalent of a pleasurable electric chair (if one exists…) then 13 Assassins was it for me.

For the first half of the film there was an ominous and careful build up as the narrative and historical details gripped me by the arms and walked either side of me, escorting me to my seat and attaching the restraints. I felt my nerves pushed increasingly on edge as an impending sense of dread stole over me and I wondered what I would meet in the second half of the film. Takashi Miike flicked a switch and for an hour I felt like electric was coursing through my body as I twitched and ducked, grinned and winced while I watched an hour-long on screen battle. Has there ever been a film which has had a battle last more than an hour and maintained a sense of coherence and interest?

If there has then it hasn’t been as good as 13 Assassins. This was a lesson in carefully choreographed and controlled the chaos as charismatic characters contained and killed scores of samurai so stylishly that I can still remember snatches of sequences as I write this.

When people comment about Takashi Miike they focus too much on him being an extreme director and miss his skill and interest in (mostly twisted) humanity and the cinematic craft that he can bring when focussed. Audition is probably the biggest example.

Other critics have been somewhat sniffy towards this when comparing it to the original 1962 version but I have yet to see that one so I cannot comment. All I know is that when I stepped out of the cinema with the end credits still rolling I was on a cinematic high, grinning maniacally and full of vim and vigour. Not even a sudden rain storm could wash away my feelings because I had just seen a film that got my blood rushing! I loved every moment of it.

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House ハウス (1977)

Only recently released in the west, this horror film has earned cult status for being one of the silliest, surreal, inventive and fun horror movies ever, House is an exciting experience because director Obayashi uses various cinematic tools to create a cross between Poltergeist and Scooby Doo.

The summer holidays have arrived and for seven high school girls, Melody, Prof., Sweetie, Kung-fu, Mac, Fantasy, and Angel, they have the chance to go camping with their teacher Mr. Togo. Angel declines because her father is back from Italy and she’s looking forward to staying at a villa with him. Her plans are ruined when he introduces her to his potential new wife. Angel is upset at the presence of the woman and decides to visit an eccentric spinster aunt, inviting her friends along for the trip. After a long journey the girls arrive at the aunt’s house but find their presence has triggered a hostile supernatural force that immediately attacks them, picking them off one by one while the eccentric woman watches.

Yoko Minamida as Auntie in House

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