The latest feature film from celebrated Japanese cult cinema icon Shin’ya Tsukamoto (Tetsuo: The Iron Man and Tokyo Fist), Killing is a bold and elegant reimagining of the samurai film that subverts conventional genre tropes, rendering his latest offering something familiar and wholly original. Set during Japan’s Edo period, the plot follows a lone ronin (a samurai without a master, Sosuke Ikematsu) working on a rural rice farm whose life is thrown into question when an older samurai (Tsukamoto) appears one day to recruit fighters. After he’s struck by an unforeseen tragedy, he starts to wonder if he’s capable of ending a life.
Taking inspiration from the likes of Akira Kurosawa’s seminal Seven Samurai, Tsukomoto’s filmmaking borrows heavily from Kurosawa’s distinct style. With sublime cinematography that harnesses the natural beauty of the countryside, the director is successfully able to convey a vast amount of meaning with the subtlest of gestures, from silent glances of characters to utilising weather to tell a visual story. Also like Kurosawa’s aforementioned masterpiece, narrative depth is drawn from exploring the characters. Not only does the protagonist’s existential ponderings provide rich characterisation to the script, more importantly it takes the genre down a brand new path to explore some insightful new angles.
It may have all the elegance of traditional Japanese cinema, but Killing has a lot of bite to it through the inclusion of the auteur’s own unique flavour of stylish violence – meaning there’s a whole lot of gushing red stuff to satisfy fans of his previous works. The choreography of the fight scenes likewise brings a real intensity to them. Fast-paced and fluid camera movements give these sequences a sense of dynamism unseen in the genre classics to update them for modern audiences.
In spite of his use of vivacious violence, however, the cult icon frequently stumbles into the trappings of using handheld cameras during fight sequences. Although handheld cameras allow viewers to get up close to the action, it also means that the constant movement and frequent editing subsequently makes following the action a monumental task of its own – especially during a key set piece involving numerous participants.
By combining all the elegance of Kurosawa with Tsukamoto’s own signature brand of filmmaking whilst subverting conventional genre tropes, Killing is a delightful reinvention of a beloved genre.
Killing (Zan) does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Glasgow Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Glasgow Film Festival website here.
Watch the trailer for Killing (Zan) here: