Thursday, August 9, 2012

i SPY ASIASPY: Age of Assassins

Age of Assassins
Director: Kihachi Okamoto
Year 1967
Age of Assassins is a striking and visually charged Asiaspy film with a heavy comedic tone that amps up the fun factor of the flick as it goes all out in entertaining its audience with a plethora of memorable moments and wild characters. Filmed in a hyper surreal style and performed with the same odd vigor, this spy-toned entry really packs a punch as we are thrown from one wacky situation to the next. Unabashed in its lunacy and bold in its presentation, Age of Assassins is one Asiaspy-themed movie that you won’t soon forget and it is one that’s likely to be remembered fondly for years to come.
The film follows the exploits of Shinji Kikyo after he has had the recent misfortune of being randomly picked by a secret organization of assassins called the “Japanese Population Control Agency” to be terminated. This demented syndicate is led by Shogo Mizorogi, an eccentric insane asylum director who uses his facility to breed inmates into crazed, psychotic killers in order for him to cleanse the earth of the unwanted masses. Shinji’s name is randomly chosen from a phonebook and sentenced for assassination in order for Shogo to display his organizations killing prowess to an interested ex-Nazi leader who wants to make sure that he is involving himself with an organization that can deliver without fail. As wave upon wave of unusual but highly deadly assassins begin to plague our unlikely hero, Shinji begins to transform from a clumsy book-worm with a sever case of foot fungus into a clever and resourceful super spy. What brought on this sudden metamorphosis from school teacher to trained killer, and more importantly can Shinji survive this unrelenting onslaught of crazed assassins and take down this nefarious organization? Who knows for sure, but damn it will be a whole hell of a lot of fun watching it all play out.

Tatsuya Nakadai takes on the role of Shinji Kikyo, the marked man who inexplicably rises to the occasion in order to save his own skin and put a hurting on those who deemed him unworthy of life. Tatsuya is an absolute treasure in the duel role of Shinji, and the opposing personalities of his character are so widespread and diverse that you’d expect that the role was tackled by two separate actors rather than one. What is most accomplished about his portrayal of this mysterious and cartoonish character is that both iterations are equally entertaining and engaging. From his initial introduction as a clueless and nerdy pacifist to his portrayal of a seasoned and clever super spy, Tatsuya has the goods to pull off both roles to perfection while adding a series of nuances to the characters that make them so damn special when seen up on the screen. What is also nice about his performance is that it is filled to the brim in the comedic sense. Whether it’s the goofy and strange side of his personality or the headstrong and charismatic version of himself, Tatsuya allows both roles to play out in a whimsical sort of way, allocating for the film to delve into some disturbing waters yet still remain fun and free spirited. Needless to say that Tatsuya’s contributions to the film are among the highpoints of the production and his characters really push the story along and into some rather unique and hair raising territories.
Along for the ride are actors Hideo Sunazuka and Reiko Dan, playing the roles of Shinji’s pals in action, Bill Otomo and Keiko Tsurumaki. The character of Bill Otomo is introduced in a comical sequence that showcases him attempting to steal Shinji’s car only to find out that the piece of crap vehicle only tops out at a sluggish crawl, forcing him to jump out of the car to confront Shinji on how shitty his automobile is. The scene is great and it perfectly captures the weirdness that is Age of Assassins. Hideo does an absolutely wonderful job with the scene and his contributions to the rest of the film are just as entertaining and fun-filled. Reiko Dan as the sexy and mysterious Keiko Tsurumaki is equally up to the task in delivering a character that is both memorable and intriguing. For the most part her role pans out to be a predictable one as she begins to fall for Shinji, leaving her to be the damsel in distress and the catalyst that makes Shinji fight all the more harder. Luckily the film throws us for a loop during the climax of the film, taking us by surprise with its strangely twisted back-story and the bizarre true intentions of Keiko. Reiko makes for a delicious femme fatale that strays from the norm and delivers something totally and truly original.

When it comes to the craziest character of the bunch, none of them even come close to the audacity that is Hideyo Amamoto’s Shogo Mizorogi. Shogo is a certified psycho and his appearance in this film is something of an unexplainable oddity. He is the director of an insane asylum in which its sole purpose is to produce trained killers in order to wipe out people that he deems undesirable. In short the man is a nut job. What’s most interesting about Shogo is that it isn’t the moral standings that make him an oddity in this film, but the way in which he interacts with the rest of the cast and the flow of his mannerisms. Always smiling and exceptionally quirky, the man seems to delight in his persistence in trying to take Shinji out and he approaches this task as if he is participating in a care free game and not a life or death situation that could possibly claim his life. Hideyo does a masterful job in bringing this sick psychotic to life and the cat and mouse games that he plays with Shinji’s character are affectionately madcap and downright crazy. It’s compelling to see the change in his character from a person who looks down upon Shinji to a man who increasingly finds a great deal of respect for the unlikely killer, though the heartwarming notion is rather twisted. Without a doubt, Hideyo’s portrayal of Shogo Mizorogi is a thing of sick beauty and his presence in this film is above and beyond palpable to the surreal nature of the film.
As for the quality of things that all of these zany characters get to do and places they get to see, the end results are nothing less than spectacular. From multiple daring battles between endless throngs of assassins, to a picturesque resort filled with beautiful models at the foot of Mt. Fuji, to a very memorable scene that presents our heroes as they dodge mortar fire by the hands of Shogo and his private army of loons, this film has an array of goodies that are all filmed expressively and brilliantly. The visual palette of this film is extremely surreal as it focuses on the beautifully captured black and white photography of the film while amping up the imagery of the piece to dreamlike proportions, especially in the art nouveau style of Shogo’s asylum lair. The visual splendor of the film is just top notch and you can tell that the director and crew were aiming to make this more of an artistic rendering of itself, which infused with 60’s spy elements and an overwhelmingly comedic tone, turns out to be one hell of an interesting combination. This is one spy-esque film that really is a treat!

Age of Assassins is a Japanese cinematic wonder that really knows how to deliver when it comes to compelling and wild characters, outlandish action, and eye-dazzling visuals. From a purely entertainment value perspective, the movie is a mile a minute smorgasbord of unparalleled insanity that can’t help but wear its comedic heart on its sleeve. In unrelenting force, the film bombards the viewer with a cinematic world that is anything but normal. With its plot of world domination by the hands of trained assassins who are metaphorically birthed and delivered from within the wacky walls of an insane asylum, you have to believe that things tend to get a little bit wonky. Fortunately for us, the movie never falters in producing a narrative and world that always feels natural and concise. The plot may be off the wall and the performances may be madcap as all hell, but the end result is a focused and genuine presentation that never deviates from the cinematic confines that it has set up for itself.
The characters inhabit this space so effortlessly that you tend to believe that everything is as it should be in this fictional realm. That is a testament to the filmmakers behind this movie and also to the actors who took on the tremendous task of maintaining these larger than life characters, because with such a fantastic stylized world for them to interact in, you would think that the overall atmosphere of the film would swallow them whole and overshadow their performances. Luckily this isn’t the case because Tatsuya Nakadai, Reiko Dan, Hideo Sunazuka, and Hideyo Amamoto do an amazing job in maintaining a sense of stability amongst such chaos. It’s an amazing feat to accomplish and an even greater victory that the film comes off as straight laced and succinct as it does, but I sum that up to expert execution and a perfect tonal balance performed by both the people in front and behind the camera. If you’re looking for a wild cinematic experience then look no further. Age of Assassins is a 60’s spy-tinged film that succinctly captures an…..

My what big eyes you have.

So how are you enjoying my rocking chair?

What a shit-eating grin.

Looks like someone is enjoying the staring contest.

Looks like Liam Neeson has finally been TAKEN!

Damn I'm one handsome son of a bitch.

Looks like you just became roadkill buddy.

Who the hell do you think you are? Dennis the Menace?

Is everyone at home enjoying the show?

I'd give my left eye to be in this movie.... Shit! Poor choice of words.

Has anyone ever told you that the back of your head looks sexy.

Shouldn't one of us be driving the car?

Say cheese! That's gonna be a good one.

My name is Shogo and I'm a psychotic son of a bitch. Hi Shogo!

I've told you a million times... stop wearing that stupid ass hat!

A staring contest with a dropped bomb. Let the fun begin!

And if you look to your left you'll see Hitler. Wait.... WHAT?!?!

And stay down you rotten bastard!

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