Who's In It: Kôji Yakusho, Takayuki Yamada, Gorô Inagaki
The Basics: How do you solve a problem like Lord Naritsugu (Inagaki)? He's the brother of the shogun and the kind of sadist who yawns while chopping off the limbs and tongue of the innocent peasant girl he just raped. Furthermore, he has a hankering to bring back the "Age of War" for his own amusement, just so he can keep killing everybody. The solution is, of course, opening up a Gojira-sized can of whup-ass and that's where aristocratic Shinzaemon Shimada (Yakusho) comes in. First, the vengeance-minded one assembles a dozen sumurai, ronin and other local guys who just happen to be great at fighting to the death. Step two involves a building a "Town of Death" and luring the evil lord into its Chamber of Commerce. From that point on it's all fighting, all the time.
What's The Deal: That peasant girl I mentioned earlier? She can still communicate via calligraphy brush held between her teeth. So when she paints a sign for the assassins that reads, simply, "TOTAL MASSACRE," it's like when Cha Cha DiGregorio starts the drag race in Grease. The high-speed fun can begin. Now, your definition of fun will need to include watching an entire army be demolished by traps, barricades, rigged buildings, rampaging buffaloes (who are especially rampaging because they've recently been set on fire) and an insanely skilled, sword-wielding vengeance squad that won't rest until every last bad guy has been diced into stew meat. And if that's not your idea of fun then you probably shouldn't be watching a sumurai movie directed by the current reigning (and most prolific) Japanese master of super-violence, Takashi Miike.
How Much Super-Violence? Try the entire last 40 minutes of the movie. It's sort of like being on one of those theme park rides that spins you around until you're dizzy and out of breath, only this one shoots a firehose of blood into your face while you're on it. It's an awesome, crazed display of virtuoso action filmmaking by a man who seems to be always out to top himself when it comes to freaking you out. If you're not familiar with Miike, check out Audition, Dead or Alive (still one of the sickest movies I've ever witnessed) or Ichi The Killer. Any one of them (or his 46 other films) will turn you into a fan.
Warning To Sticklers For Characterization And Directors Having Final Say: Reportedly there were about 20 minutes trimmed from the 126-minute running time for American release and it's a safe bet that those chopped bits came from the slow-burning front end as warriors are recruited one by one. The result is that by the time the extreme swordfighting goes down, you only know some basic shorthand information about the heroes. It's enough for the purposes of the grand finale but be aware that there's a longer version out there.
FYI: This is also a remake of Eichi Kudo's 1963 black-and-white (and less brutal) film of the same name, Jusan-nin no shikaku.