New on Blu-ray and DVD: ’13 Assassins,’ ‘Hobo with a Shotgun’

On Blu-ray and DVD

“13 Assassins,” based on a screenplay by Kaneo Ikegami, written by Daisuke Tengan, directed by Takashi Miike, 125 minutes, rated R.

With “13 Assassins,” director Takashi Miike cuts a bloody swath in the samurai genre, taking the traditional and adding more than a pinch of what lurks within his twisted mind.

The catalyst behind all the violence is Lord Naritsugu Matsudaira (Goro Inagaki), the Shogun’s sadistic younger brother who rapes, kills and maims at will, but is politically untouchable because of his kinship. Naritsugu is the type of mad man who thrives off chaos and war, void of anything resembling reason or sanity (possibly an ancestor of Asami Yamazaki in Miike’s “Audition”).

But it’s feudal Japan, which happened to be a time when samurai had unquestionable loyalty to the lord. Naritsugu’s samurai, Hanbei (Masachika Ichimura), is the epitome of what was expected of a samurai – ready to die at a moment’s notice to protect their lord, no matter how monstrous he may be.

In the strictest sense, Shizaemon’s (Koji Yakusho) 11 samurai, gathered for the purpose of political assassination, are not “good” samurai because of their disobedience. In terms of skill, however, they’re better than good. They’re the best.

The 12 samurai (and one tag-along commoner) take up the cause of the Japanese people by accepting a secret mission to ambush and kill Naritsugu. It’s suicide, but as Shizaemon and his men are trained samurai who are willing to die for what they believe in.

Miike explores the ideological duality of the samurai, presenting the strict nature of the code in Hanbei against the unavoidable human nature of questioning in Shizaemon. It’s undeniable that Shizaemon is more noble (or simply more likable) than his counterpart, but there’s an honorable quality to Hanbei despite his indefensible goal of protecting the lord.

There are moments where it becomes clear Hanbei knows he’s on the wrong side of the battle, but it’s a job that he is bound to. What’s a samurai to do?

The first two-thirds of “13 Assassins” is methodical in the way it lays out moral quandaries and develops a staggering number of characters, as Shizaemon and Hanbei attempt to outwit one another militarily. All the while, you can feel that something grand is just over the horizon.

The third act belongs to a nearly 50-minute battle sequence pitting 13 against more than 200. It’s as exhilarating and elaborate as it is violent, and it’s something that American action movies can’t hold a candle to. I dare them to try.

Grade: A-

“Hobo with a Shotgun,” written by Jason Eisener, John Davies and Rob Cotterill, directed by Eisener, 86 minutes, rated R.

Canadian director Jason Eisener shows some sparks of brilliance with “Hobo with a Shotgun,” as he creates a retro nightmare full of crime, and more importantly, gore. Unfortunately, in following the edict of exploitation — bending and breaking the laws of what makes sense — Eisener sends “Hobo” through the grinder, and what comes out tastes a bit like mystery meat.

Rutger Hauer is the title Hobo, who hitches a ride on a cargo train to Hope Town, home to the dregs of society and those who sink even lower morally. Under the tyrannical law of a crime boss named Drake (he publicly decapitates people using a manhole, a collar device and a car … best not to ask), it doesn’t seem as though a single honest soul lives in Hope Town.

Drake (Brian Downey) has two potential heirs to his throne, Slick (Gregory Smith) and Ivan (Nick Bateman), who could be categorized as bullies in the most extreme sense of the word.

As Hobo (yes, that’s what he’s known as) follows the brothers into an arcade as they look to browbeat a kid into paying up on drug money, he watches a prostitute named Abby (Molly Dunsworth) stand up to Hope Town’s entitled princes of crime.

Hobo continues to lurk in the shadows, watching as Slick, embarrassed by Abby’s resistance, stalks the prostitute with revenge on his mind. Hobo steps in, of course, beating Abby’s assailant with sock full of change and dragging him to the police station. The act of defiance ignites a feud between the crime lord and the homeless man, pitting Hobo against an army of low-lifes.

In Abby, Hobo finds an ally with honor. In Drake and his sons, he finds a gang whose wickedness knows no limits, hellbent on revenge. And in the vigilante transient, Hope Town finds a hero unwilling to live under the iron rule of Drake.

There are a few not-so-subtle jabs at our own society that will convince some that “Hobo with a Shotgun” is more than just shameless exploitation. I assure you, it’s not.

Looking to find a legion of fans under the influence of Red Bull, Eisener pulls out all the stops, with bold cinematography more suited for a music video that complements his vision. Excessive violence aside, the inclusion of vintage arcade games, over-the-top villains and an outdated score, will speak to “Hobo’s” audience.

Beyond that, even, Eisener’s most perplexing choice (or strangely amusing, depending on your taste) is his introduction of a demonic duo decked out in armor known as The Plague. They’re called upon by Drake in his hour of need, and the filmmaker leaves it to the viewer’s imagination as to what the hell they are, exactly.

But all of these little quirks in the vintage-yet-modern world of Eisener’s are just distractions for both the audience and the director himself. To call “Hobo with a Shotgun” unfocused would be an understatement. Eisener has no filter, cramming the movie with anything that pops into his head, and leaving viewers feeling left out on some inside joke.

It certainly won’t be hard for the movie to find its audience — you know who you are. And certainly, many will look back on “Hobo” as a “cult classic,” although that title should have died years ago. For me, “Hobo with a Shotgun” is a less inspired version of what directors like Eli Roth (“Cabin Fever”) are doing, and it’s also not nearly as entertaining.

Grade: C

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