Japanese director Takashi Miike said it could be interesting to try to make films the way they used to be made. Meaning, real movies, not tasteless TV films. That’s precisely what’s striking with his version of Thirteen Assassins, he was actually trying to recreate, with his personal touch, some of the visuals from the original 1963 film. Let’s see this comparison, and what it implies;
First shot. In 1963, Eiichi Kudo made it clear that his film would deal with the feudal system, showing how some officials used samurais as their own puppets to solve unofficial problems. It was about how men are ready to die for something massive they don’t really understand (what a giant mansion!).
While Takashi Miike is focused on the burden of being a samurai in a peaceful time. Discovering this fist shot, you might want to ask, what’s the point & the meaning of this suicide? Why this man accepts to kill himself? In a way, it’s a more human approach of the story (see that the samurai is facing the audience).
Council scene. In the 1963 film, it seems to be the heart of the system, where the black & white reinforces the coldness of it. A place nobody is supposed to enter without any permission. And yet, here we are! In Miike’s film, the feeling of secrecy is kept onscreen, with these wooden doors acting like layers (even though you can see through them). As for the council, it looks like a normal meeting.
The mission order. In both films, the characters are talking in the background, because the foreground is used to clarify the fact this discussion is totally unofficial, it’s happening outside the formal place of meeting.
The goodbye scene. In this case, Takashi Miike offers an interesting way to separate these lovers, they’re in two different rooms, and the woman won’t/can’t cross the almost invisible “doorstep” to stop her lover. While Eiichi Kudo keeps them in the same room, not at the same level and not facing each others. Same idea, expressed differently!
So long, samurai. In Eiichi Kudo’s film, we don’t see the young samurai leaving his woman. But we do see his uncle going away. In Takashi Miike’s film, it’s the opposite. But if you notice, only the uncle is seen through the closed door. In some way, this simple shot announces the character’s destiny.
Death. Do you notice the slight angle difference? Which is enough to sum up the main storytelling difference between these films. In the original version, the use of a high angle shot feels like the feudal system is looking down on people, that it doesn’t really care to see men dying for some honorable reasons. Miike’s shot is more about the samurai itself, what is he ready to do, why… Different questions different stories. Make your choice! (thanks to Japanflix).
And finally, another example, no special comments here;
Too bad, Takashi Miike didn’t maintain this level of framework, clearly inspired by the “old” way to make films (one shot = one idea = one feeling). This new version of Thirteen Assassins is filled with too much overexplaining lines, telling you exactly what you must understand (despite the fact, you can already see it onscreen). Somehow, this lack of subtlety ruins the fun of the experience (and may also be a serious lack of trust in the audience/cinema language). Half a success!