The Thirteen Assassins and/or The Great Killing, you're gonna love this. Everything is tightened up; where Thirteen Assassins was a bit process-driven and Great Killing somewhat chaotic, here he's got it just right. Pace, tension, carnage -- everything is in perfect balance.
As with the previous films, this is an affair of vengeance. A heinous personage in a position of power has done something awful, and it's down to a small group of highly skilled individuals to make it right. In this case, the culprit is the shogun's brother, a fella named Lord Nariatsu (the irrepressible Kantaro Suga, also the baddie in Thirteen Assassins). Jesus, is this guy wicked (one hapless lord takes an arrow in the eyeball for his trouble). Any chance Nariatsu will lose his head at the end of 100 minutes?
I should pause to praise the look of this film. The B&W cinematography is truly awesome. Something about the Japanese architectural aesthetic blends so perfectly with black-and-white photography -- oh go read In Praise of Shadows already ...
But the cast! To die for. Clearly word was getting around about this Kudo guy. Kotaro Satomi, the main young dude of the other two films, is back, albeit in a tiny role. Also returning is Toei chambara stalwart Ryutaro Otomo (he was the bad guy in Great Killing, but here he's the standup samurai retainer who, because of bushido, has to defend his scumbag lord to the bitter end).
The central revenger, Hayato Sengoku, is portrayed by one of my favorite Japanese actors, Isao Natsuyagi. With his downturned crescent mouth and huge ears, you wonder, "What's this guy gonna give me?" but the sheer presence of the man puts him over the top, makes him a star. I've written about him before (please buy and read my books!). Samurai Wolf, Shogun's Samurai, Bandits vs Samurai Squadron, go check him out, the guy rocks.
And then there's Ko Nishimura, reprising his role in Thirteen Assassins, as a badass master swordsman. Nishimura appeared with Isao Natsuyagi in Samurai Wolf 2, don't you know (don't get me started on Ko Nishimura -- I could go all day). And let's not forget Junko "Quick-Draw Okatsu" Miyazono who was also the blind woman in Samurai Wolf.
Oh, and Kei Sato!
Look, if you're reading this and you haven't seen this picture, you owe it to yourself. It's really quite an excellent samurai film. There was a time I thought Eichi Kudo overrated; I came around. And this, as far as I'm concerned, is his magnum opus. But don't trust me -- just ask Paghat the Ratgirl.
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