Epic. Unforgettable. Relentless. Magnificently entertaining. Japanese cult legend Takashi Miike sets aside his penchant for twisted modern horror to craft a classic period adventure, a "Seven Samurai" for the 21st century.
In feudal times, a nobleman commits ritual suicide to protest the actions of Naritsugu, the Emperor's depraved brother, whose barbaric cruelty has dishonored the throne. The scene is shot with chilling restraint. Only the actor's expression and the sound of intestines spilling on the soundtrack indicate the bloodletting taking place just outside the frame.
With Naritsugu next in line to succeed the Emperor and impossible to remove from power, hara-kiri is the only conceivable form of protest -- unless the heavily guarded tyrant can be eliminated, through what surely would be a suicide mission against his 200 bodyguards. After complex political maneuvering, the secret assassination plan is drafted and a dozen samurai sign on for a noble death in service to their nation.
The team comes together a few at a time until a dozen patriotic swordsmen are assembled. (The identity of the 13th team member is too good a surprise to spoil.) This men-on-a-mission film is superbly cast, impeccably shot, riveting even in static dialogue scenes, and overwhelming once the blades are unsheathed. The finale, a slashing 40-minute battle royal employing an endless variety of traps, strategies and weapons (including flaming bulls!) is action moviemaking at its most agile, extravagant and incredible. J-pop youth idol Goro Inagaki is seriously creepy as the childish, vicious rapist and murderer Naritsugu. As the aging leader of the samurai squad, Koji Yakusho ("Shall We Dance?") makes a strong, stalwart impression. For the stout of heart, this is a spectacle that demands to be seen on the big screen.