13 Assassins by Takashi Miike is a remake of the 1963 movie The Thirteen Assassins by Eiichi Kudo, which I have not seen. Among his upcoming movies is a remake of Harakiri, the 1962 classic by Masaki Kobayashi, which I have seen, but not in quite some time.
I'm told Miike feels something is wrong in modern Japanese moviemaking that he hopes to fix by going back to older styles, in this case chambara or Samurai movies. I must say that my experience is that Japanese cinema, at least what I see imported here, is among the most exciting in modern cinema, and I'd include Miike's work high among the reasons for that. However if this "back to basics" approach will lead to more movies like this, then bring that on as well.
Miike certainly takes it seriously and does an excellent job with the material. The movie could almost have been from an earlier era. The pacing of the build-up of the story, the choices of shots, even the way the majority of the action is staged has a classic feel.
But what struck me the most isn't those similarities, perhaps because I'd been prepared for them by previous reviews. No, what struck me is that it seemed to be saying something different in the telling than I've previously seen.
Samurai movies traditionally extol the responsibility of a Samurai to be Samurai. The ones that take place in the twilight of the days of the Samurai traditionally eulogize the passing age. Here Miike seems to be welcoming the freedom that comes with the new age. I wouldn't say it's a celebration at all, in fact the movie carries a heaviness from beginning to end, but it does seem to see the coming era as something of a well-earned rest.