ACTION; 2hr 6min (Japanese with subtitles)
STARRING: Kōji Yakusho, Gorō Inagaki, Masachika Ichimura
Men of steel: from left, Yakusho and Ichimura
Feudal Japan in 1844 is a cauldron of discontent in hotshot director Takashi Miike’s impactful remake of Eiichi Kudô’s 1963 black-and-white actioner. With the rapist, torturer and murderer Lord Naritsugu Matsudaira (Inagaki), half-brother of the shōgun, out of egomaniacal control, a band of samurai warriors join together for payback. The audacious plan is to kill Naritsugu while he and his massive entourage are travelling — and not a minute too soon: the man is a stone-cold psychopath and the prospect of him taking the throne and plunging the country into war is unthinkable.
Led by the stately Shinzaemon Shimada (Yakusho), the samurai, on the other hand, are defined by their selfless code and philosophy of service. Their discipline and formality are the flipside of their fluid ferocity in combat, which in Miike’s hands is battle as ritualistic art, fusing the stony finality of a western with the elegance of centuries-old culture. The operatic closing confrontation, in which 13 men fearlessly confront 200, is full-bore balletic slaughter.