Grae's currently on vacation in an exotic land until the end of April. Subbing for her is fellow MDC writer Alonso Duralde. Follow him on Twitter at @ADuralde.
Who's In It: Kôji Yakusho, Takayuki Yamada, Gorô Inagaki
The Basics: In mid-18th century Japan, the relatives of the all-powerful shogun are pretty much untouchable. Subsequently, the shogun's half-brother, Lord Naritsugu (Inagaki), is one sick puppy, but no matter how many newlyweds he rapes or families he beheads, no one has the official authority to stop his reign of bloody sadism. Enter vengeance-minded aristocrat Shinzaemon Shimada (Yakusho), who assembles a dozen samurai, ronin and other talented swordsmen to kill Naritsugu during his journey to the shogun's palace. The highlight of the assassination plan involves Shimada buying an entire village and turning it into a "town of death," complete with street-blocking barricades, booby-trapped buildings, and buffaloes on fire. (You read that right -- buffaloes on fire.)
What's The Deal: From the moment that one of Naritsugu's victims (an unfortunate woman whose arms, legs, and tongue were all cut off by the wicked lord) grabs a calligraphy brush with her teeth to paint a scroll that reads "TOTAL MASSACRE," you know you're in for some rollicking ultra-violence. And if you're familiar with the films of director Takashi Miike -- which include Audition, Dead or Alive, and Ichi the Killer -- you know that that violence is going to be stylish, over-the-top, and utterly captivating. And it is. For all its bloodshed and mayhem, 13 Assassins is one of the most joyously energetic and exciting movies I've seen in the last year, and maybe even the last two years. Miike is remaking a Japanese classic, but he crafts it it into his own breathless and extravagant creation. The "town of death" sequence, which takes up nearly the second half of the film, ranks among the great action set-pieces ever filmed.
Getting The Band Together: Granted, with 13 title characters, we don't get to know all of them particularly well. But this baker's dozen of killers is an entertainingly diverse one, from the drunken samurai looking for a shot at redemption to the not-to-be-trifled-with ronin to the young apprentice to the Japanese hillbilly who lives in the woods and fights more effectively with stone and sling than many of Naritsugu's trained soldiers do with their blades.
The Hardest-Working Man In Show Business: Woody Allen is considered a prolific American filmmaker for averaging one film a year for the past several decades. Takashi Miike, it's worth noting, has directed a total of 49 movies just since 1992. And that astonishing filmography features not only action and horror titles but also a Western (Sukiyaki Western Django), a musical (The Happiness of the Katakuris), and an arty boys-behind-bars gay love story (Big Bang Love, Juvenile A).