Cult director Takashi Miike (Ichi the Killer, Audition) delivers a bravado period action film set at the end of Japan's feudal era. 13 Assassins - a masterful exercise in cinematic butchery (New York Post) is centered around a group of elite samurai who are secretly enlisted to bring down a sadistic lord in order to prevent him from ascending to the throne and plunging the country into a war torn future.
It stands to reason that there must be something pretty dastardly about the target of the assassination plot that makes up Takashi Miike's 13 Assassins
; after all, an enormous amount of energy and planning goes into this effort. And hoo boy, have we got a dastardly villain for you: Japanese feudal lord Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki), the demented half-brother of the emperor. His taste for perversity results in a few early scenes that will test the gag reflex of unprepared viewers (and let fans of Miike know that the director of Audition
still has his gonzo streak, even if the rest of the movie is conventional by his standards). Court councilors agree that somebody needs to take Naritsugu out, lest this madman actually ascend to power; thus a veteran samurai (Koji Yakusho, the charismatic star of Shall We Dance
) is charged with assembling a team that can eliminate him. The movie spends some time on the (always sure-fire) method of picking the expert samurai who will join the mission, and then plunges headlong into an epic battle sequence. 13 Assassins
delivers on the spectacle, as Naritsugu has 200 soldiers at his side, so the destruction of an entire small town is called for in the final throwdown. Miike is an adept field marshal, and the movie has plenty of crazy-go-nuts moments (as well as a couple of borderline-mystical puzzlers), but he also takes the time to explore the delicacies of the samurai code: in particular, Naritsugu's chief of security (Masachika Ichimura) is as disgusted with his boss as anybody else, but must live according to the oath he swore when he took the job--an exquisite sort of self-debasement. In short, action connoisseurs will find little to fault in this big-scale samurai epic. --Robert Horton