Film buffs might remember, half a century before or more of the hype surrounding "Seven Samurai", "Yojimbo", samurai pictures remained the equivalent or a inspiration to American western films. Japanese film-maker Takashi Mike remembers this and sets aside his penchant for twisted modern horror to craft a classic period adventure, something like a "Seven Samurai" for the 21st century. '13 Assassins', a remake of black-and-white 1963 picture of the same name, "13 Assassins" is a earnest homage to the form at a time when Japanese feudal period films are an increasing rarity.
Takashi Mike is one of the few directors, who could juxtapose cruelty and beauty. His films, including the creepy psycho-sexual horror 'Audition' and over the top splatter crime 'Ichi the Killer', often carry a whiff of sadism. Miike's '13 Assassins' offers not over-the-top, Hong Kong-style martial arts, but rather is a throwback to silver-screen warrior epics where men steered their horses through woods, and where ritual and rules of law were not broken lightly.
PlotThe movie opens with a gentleman in 1844 Japan committing harakari (Ritual suicide by self-disembowelment on a sword). The death is related to Lord Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki), the adopted son of the shogun whose madman reign of terror is soon to be rewarded with a political post that will allow him to fully plunge the country into chaos.
Shimada (Kôji Yakusho) is appointed with the task of freeing the country of this menace. The 1840's were a time of relative peace, and the way of the samurai is fading. So, he embarks on a quest to find men, who are willing to risk their lives for the chance to blood their swords. Shimada, and his 12 samurais concoct a plan to kill Lord Naritsugu, but of course they also have to take out his 200-strong personal army first. A heroic mission, with a high possibility of death -- just the way the samurai like it.
AnalysisThe movie's cat-and-mouse game of strategy, figuring out when and where to ambush the evil overlord’s group, is fascinating. As in Kurosawa’s epic “Seven Samurai” things begin slowly, and hauntingly, then movies on to some killer battle scenes. In the consecrated style of "Ocean's Eleven" the group is selected, man by man, and for the audiences it might take a while to sort through the identical topknots and work out who’s who.
Key players among the 13 assassins include the young fighting genius, Hirayama (Tsuyoshi Ihara); the explosives experts Horii (Koen Kondo) and Higuchi (Yuma Ishigaki); Shinzaemon’s jaded playboy nephew, Shinrouko (Takayuki Yamada); and Koyata (Yusuke Iseya), a rougish forest hunter the assassins pick up along the way. Iseya as Koyata is a direct link to Toshiro Mifune’s Kikuchiyo in “Seven Samurai.’’ Koji Yakusho gives a impressive and noble performance as the samurai leader.
"13 Assassins" is a must-see for Takashi Miike's passionate fans. But even action movie-lovers who've never seen any of his films before will be drawn in by this masterful exercise in cinematic butchery. Director Miike breaks up the epic struggle into compact corners of the battlefield (a crowded village rigged with booby-traps and all manner of barricades), places where each character can make an impression on viewers as each seeks “a noble death.” Akira Kurosawa in 'Seven Samurai' created an intensely affecting social canvas on which to paint his battle scenes, Miike sticks to the narrow but rich world of samurai, politicians, and nobles. The movie is fully about a man’s world — and the few women we see don’t fare well at all.
13 Assassins, when compared to the samurai movies of old, might be called a mere action movie. But when the action starts, it is breathtaking. The movie concludes with a breathtaking 45 minutes of choreography, swordsmanship, carnage, dirt and blood. “Your samurai brawls are crazy fun!” excited the hunter turned fighter in the heat of battle. After those action sequences, we might agree with him.
13 Assassins is definitely not for the squeamish. For a stout heart, this is visually exquisite, emotionally charged and a spectacle.
13 Assassins - IMDb