This gets off to an acceptable start. A sadistic warlord stands way too close to the throne - bad enough what he does to the commoners around him, it would be vastly worse if the whole nation were his plaything. A band of 12 assassins is enlisted, and they're off. We establish personal loyalties and conflicts early on, compressed into traditional forms by the rigid code of bushido. Although well executed, this seemed ordinary up to about the half-way point, when an improbable thirteenth joins the band.
The group picks a small town for their ambush. They buy out the village and turn it into their trap. The villagers bait the trap with themselves, lure the warlord and his retainers in, then escape to safety as the trap springs. The rest of the movie, a solid 45 minutes, presents one of the most incredible fight scenes in cinematic history. I mean, the fighting is believable - no flying swordsmen or outlandish weaponry - but I've never seen a movie sustain an adrenaline rush for so long. And, despite the fast-moving action, it never turns repetitive. The 13th, although the comedic element, brings his own contribution to the mayhem as well.
The ending comes in suitably heroic (and Japanese) style, with a brief reminder of just why the world would be better off without that warlord. Then, in a final moment, we suddenly wonder just who or what that 13th might be.
A world with Kurosawa in it has very high standards to meet. Maybe "13 Assassins" doesn't meet the very highest, but its a good one anyway, and worth coming back to.
on July 16, 2011
13 Assassins is Takashi Miike's brilliant remake of an old Samurai film. Great characters, great villain, epic action, and the craziest yet best choreographed battle ever put to film, all rolled into one. There are definitely touches of Seven Samurai, but this is a completely different story - A samurai is tasked with putting together a group of assassins to kill the Shogun's younger half brother before he makes it home from his trip to Edo when he will become all but untouchable. The production value, costumes, and sets are first class, and the acting is brilliant, it's almost impossible to not be sucked into the story completely.
To all of the film snobs crying about the cut scenes, not only are the on the DVD in the extras, but the film is better without them in it - at least half of the length of the cut scenes are comedic scenes that take you out of the story, and the rest are inconsequential.
on January 10, 2014
It has been a long time since I watched a good samurai film, let alone a great one. The greatest have already been done decades ago with only a few others sprinkled here and there over the years. All the other samurai films are just weak copies of a now overused theme. I also don’t care much for remakes. If the original was so good, then why remake it? Of course, I give allowance for the passage time. Enough years go by and culture changes and old stories need to be retold, but that comes from more than just a handful of decades. In modern days remakes hardly ever honor the originals and are made for profit, not the sake of the story. Still, there are always exceptions, and 13 Assassins is one of them. It is another samurai film, it is a remake, I am pretty sure everyone got paid, and it is one hell of a movie.
The original film, Jûsan-nin no shikaku, was made in 1963 and was black and white. It did not have the intense bloody cinematography of a Miike Takashi film, who is famous for silver screen bloodbaths like Ichi the Killer. The premise of the film is loosely based on history. The Shogun’s half brother, Matsudaira Naritsugu, played by Gorô Inagaki, is a sadist of the highest degree. He rapes, kills, tortures, maims, and terrorizes without cause and without conscience. An official of the Shogun, Sir Doi, played by Mikijirô Hira, has been given leave by the Shogun to solve the problem of this out of control noble. His solution is to hire one of the most talented swordsman he knows, Shimada Shinzaemon, played by Kôji Yakusho. Shinzaemon assembles a group a twelve men, that become thirteen later, to lay a trap for Naritsugu on his way to his home province and kill him.
What sounds like an overly simple plot ends up providing a fast paced and violent story steeped in samurai ethos along with the more modern condemnation of the narrow minded samurai code. This plays out between Shinzaemon and his friend and rival Kito Hanbei, played by Masachika Ichimura. Hanbei ended up becoming a samurai for Naritsugu, and while he hates what his lord does for pleasure, he staunchly follows the part of code of the samurai that says you serve your lord, whatever the cost. This is more to protect his honor than Naritsugu’s. Shinzaemon has a similar philosophy, but it is more modern, the samurai serves the people, Japan herself. Since Naritsugu is a terror to the people, Shinzaemon will kill him, whatever the cost. These two discuss their points of view in two short conversations in the movie and Takashi makes sure you understand that this is the motivation for what has and will happen. This same argument plays out in Japanese history during the Meji Restroation, in which many samurai had to choose to serve their regional lords or a greater Japan. This historical event takes place twenty-three years after the end of the film.
The burden of the samurai, the do or die code, is also played out in all the senseless death to kill just one man. The Thirteen end up facing down two hundred in the small town Ochiai, which they have turned into a death trap. A sizable chunk of the film is watching men slaughter each other in this town. The fighting is not highly stylized, it is a Saving Private Ryan level of violence. The camera is in close with real sword play that cuts down men screaming in pain and fear. There is no mercy in any of the deaths witnessed. They are equally ugly and painful, bringing the futility of violence and an adherence to a unthinking warriors code right in front of the viewer. However, this what makes a great samurai film, unavoidable futility.
Like other great samurai films the action is intensely wrapped up with the futility message. 13 Assassins mimics the action in films like The Seven Samurai and Samurai II: The Duel at Ichijoji Temple, yet Takeshi adds his own brand of violence which takes one deeper into the events played out. Mainly torture scenes. Another theme in the film is the burden of carrying the rank of samurai. A theme feature in many great samurai movies, like The Twilight Samurai. The hero of the Thirteen, Shinzaemon, offers advice to his nephew near the end of the film. In short, stop being a samurai, their fate is never a happy one.
Aside from all the philosophy, there are other aspects to take note of. The casting is great. The Thirteen each have their own distinct personality and appearance. Many do not look dangerous at all, but old and out of practice, like spear wielding Sahara, played by Arata Furuta. Others look to young to be apart of the venture, like Ogura Shōujirō, an untested samurai who is still a teenager, played by Masataka Kubota. Then of course there is the thirteenth, Kiga Koyata, played by Iseya Yūsuke, who is a hunter that the other assassins find in the forest. Shinzaemon makes many references to Heaven being on their side, because Heaven can not stand Naritsugu’s evil. While the story never comes out and says it, it is suggested that this monkey like hunter Koyata is really a yōkai, which is something of a demon, goblin, or just supernatural being, and therefore might be Heaven’s assistance to see the job done. All these different people flesh out the Thirteen as real people and not just stuntmen supporting the lead.
For anyone looking for a great samurai film, or an action film that isn’t made up of cartoon characters in spandex, I highly recommend 13 Assassins. There are chilling moments of brutality and just general badassness through out the film. Great lines from serious men, scenes were nothing is said and yet everything is understood. Sacrifice, bloodshed, glorious pointless death, futility, the way of the samurai. For true fans of Japanese cinema, this is a must own. In my short list of great samurai films I have now placed Miike Takashi’s remake 13 Assassins.
on March 1, 2015
A bit like the Japanese version of "The Magnificent Seven". Only, instead of saving a village the "13 Assassins" are out to save Japan from Lord Naritsugu Matsudaira, the ruthless half-brother of the Shogun, who sadistically kills and maims those around him without regard. In secret, the Shogun's advisor, Sir Doi, asks Lord Shinazemon to assassinate Naritsugu to save the people of Japan. As Sir Doi is the Shogun's advisor it would be dishonorable for him to be involved. Shinazemon agrees and recruits eleven other samurai (yes, eleven ... you'll have to watch the movie to find out where the 13th comes from). Yes, it's a Japanese Samurai movie ... so, it's going to be a 'bit' over the top. But, nevertheless, it was an enjoyable movie.