Customer Reviews: 13 Assassins
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on March 29, 2011
Being native Japanese, I can be a little nit-picky about movies that are era-centric especially when it comes to feudal Japan. This movie did not insult my intelligence, was true to form with depicting the nature of Japan pre-Meiji era and gave me goosebumps with its intensity. This movie is both entertaining, intelligent and brings to life a culture (Samurai) that few today may be aware of. This is a true Samurai movie in form and delivery without being over the top. Thank you Amazon for making it available online. This is a definite must add to my movie collection.
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on May 2, 2011
I caught this on HDnet movies last week and was thoroughly impressed with everything about it. Great action sequences, great acting and dialogue (although I don't know Japanese - going by the subtitles), and the cinematography is amazing. Japan is a beautiful country and you certainly see this in wondrous HD.

The build up to the final battle scene is a little slow and the gruesome scenes which setup the evil nature of the protaganist's target might be a little bit overly done (the target practice on the remaining Mamiya family in particular). I would have actually liked to see more character development with the original samurai and the couple of ronin but then the movie would have been over 3 hours long.

Visually a few CG elements look less than stellar (flaming cattle and horses falling from an exploding bridge), I am guessing this is probably more to do with the CG production than anything else.

Despite a few qualms I wouldn't take a star off because the final, extremely long battle scene is just incredibly awesome. I haven't seen the original B&W version from 1963 but I might have to try to find it, if its half as good.

Even now with the movie sitting on my DVR I am looking forward to picking up Takashi Miike's masterpiece on bluray as soon as it comes out.
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on May 31, 2011
The strength of the story alone will carry along most viewers. But to fully appreciate the tale that 'Assassins' is crafting, you have to understand the Samurai - their machinations for power, political infrastructure and shared heritage.

In this period, prior to the West's forced entry into Japan via Commodore Perry, the samurai culture had just past its zenith. Peace had ruled the land for so long that the warrior class were mostly that in name alone - few had tasted real combat. Fewer still wanted it. Luxury and prestige were often chosen above stark training and an ascetic life. And the ultimate glory, to die in battle, was considered poetic by many who carried the 'daisho' (two swords), not a literal truth as in the past.

Additionally, absolute loyalty without question was honored above all else. The entire structure of governance was based on this concept, and without it, chaos would ensue.

So when an unspeakably horrific monster, born into the family of the Shogunate (the warrior ruling class), was about to be promoted as the Shogun's primary advisor - it was inconceivable that the retainers would do anything to rid themselves of this human cancer; not without bringing terrible shame and dishonor to themselves and their families. And, by default, destabilizing the very structure of their existence and potentially plunging the country back into civil war.

The question is, and the crux of this film, what do you do?

Borrowing heavily from the true story of 'The Forty-Seven Ronin' - very special men, old school samurai if you will, would take on the task of killing this living demon in human form.

Viewers have to understand that assassination of a superior was considered the penultimate evil in samurai culture. It would be akin to combining the modern crimes of betraying your country, raping your sister, and cannibalizing a small child - all wrapped up into one wholly unforgivable sin. So to choose the path of assassination... well, you can only imagine the unbelievable burden being placed on their shoulders.

If you can assimilate the contradiction of finding honor in committing the dishonorable - then this film will be infinitely more powerful and enjoyable.

That said, I found the film a bit formulaic. While likely 'new' to many in the west, these dramas have been a cultural mainstay for the Japanese since the first katana raised in front of movie cameras. Annual Taiga productions are clearly the standard by which to measure the story, with Kurosawa as the foundation onto which all like stories are visually expressed.

Overall - enjoyable, but not superior. I would encourage viewers to invest time and funds in other productions. See Wikipedia under 'Taiga Drama".

[Edited 6.12.11] Learned something new about this production that I feel truly adds to the wonderful characterizations in this film. During the battle, the comical character whom the Twelve meet in the mountains is mortally wounded, a wakizashi thrown by the "demon" stabbing him in the throat. Yet, after the battle, he later appears unhurt; commenting how sad he was that the fun was over and happily trotting off back to the mountain.

I had ascribed the scene as some kind of medically-explanable freak event. However, an Amazon Discussion reveals a much deeper insight into the film and Japanese culture itself.

In fact, what we're witnessing is the physical embodiment of a 'Tengu' - a type of spirit or demon. It appears there are two types, falling into the basic categories of good and evil. Obviously the imp is a good version of this creature. And even more specifically, he appears to have taken the form of a 'Yamabushi' - an ascetic mountain warrior.

Wikipedia cites a tale which must have been the inspiration for this character: "According to a legend in the 18th-century Kaidan Toshiotoko, a tengu took the form of a yamabushi and faithfully served the abbot of a Zen monastery until the man guessed his attendant's true form."
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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.

-- wiredweird
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on April 30, 2011
I was very impressed with the quality of the script as well as the actors. Too often I find (being a Westerner) that many Japanese films are hampered with what seems to be overacting. It might just be me that views many Japanese movies this way, but delightfully found that everyone was fantastic and on par with what their respective circumstance dictated. The violence was warranted without being too grotesque or ridiculous. The humor was well executed and lightened the mood appropriately.

Being a US Marine, I found the dialogue at the end between the films main pro/antagonists was very thought provoking. Come to think of it, there were many wisdom-one-liners spouted during the film that caught my attention and caused me to rewind to re-read what they had said.

I rarely do any reviews, but this movie stirred some real emotion and thought. I wanted to just put "wow" in the review but figured that was just not good enough.

I'm going to watch it again before Amazon's 48 hour rental runs out.
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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.
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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.
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on March 1, 2013
I really enjoyed the film but don't understand why its being called the greatest samurai film ever made, or an unforgettable classic.
It is a good movie, far, far better than average. The Japanese Braveheart though? no way. Its a great movie but I fail to grasp all the hype surrounding it and I wonder if its just a well thought out marketing plan for it?
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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.
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on March 6, 2014
Do you want to know what the Samurai code of honor was and required of its members, then this is the dvd for you..action and the fulfillment of a commitment in the face of an honorable and certain death...never saw a video that so clearly demonstrated what the Samurai were and what they stood by HONOR was everything and it is shown in the concept of those times....forget Hollywood, it could never make a picture like this without screwing it up....why, because it never understood what they were doing, just making a "Money making film"..note no love interest in this story to side track the intent of the Samurai
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