Shinya Tsukamoto, mostly known for ‘Testuo’ (1989), is a famed Japanese auteur who is more than thirty-five years in and still seems to be sharply skilled. He is known for his raw, intense aesthetics in filmmaking. His most recent film ‘Killing’ is about a ‘ronin’ (samurai without a master) named Tsuzuki who spends time with farmers helping them with their harvest before he moves on to the land of Edo to take up samurai duties. A man named Sawamura asks the ronin to join him as he needs help serving the ‘Shogun’ in Edo. Their journey is unfortunately halted by a group of outlaws and both the ronin must deal with them. Although there is an interesting twist to this seemingly shallow tale of violence. “I don’t get how you kill so easily” says Tsuzuki at one point. So is the plight of his character who is desperate to break free from the cycle of violence.
Tsukamoto is not interested in the act of killing but the psychological impact that both precedes and succeeds it. None of the action here is processed or presented neatly. You experience it as if you were standing right there among the samurai. Right from the start Tsukamoto places the viewer in the heat of the moment with his handheld and shaky camerawork. It helps immerse the viewer both in scenes of action and the anticipation of it. The sword play is choreographed extremely well but Tsukamoto is so careful in how he is presenting the action. There is no glory in killing. The editing is very reflective of katana’s lightning quick motion. The climactic note in the film is not a monotonous sigh of relief that comes from humanity defeating evil. Humanity is losing to the evil within just to survive.
The film does not hide under its glory of sword play and the cool of samurai instead subverts the expectations that come with action/samurai genre films, all while rejecting to adhere to conventional filmmaking techniques. With that said if only the characters or ideas were better fleshed out and the concept expanded this would have been perfect. But even as it stands at 80 mins ‘Killing’ is to-the-point and rips your guts out.
Disclaimer: The above review solely illustrates the views of the writer.