Director: Takashi Miike
Writer: Shoichiro Ikemiya, Daisuke Tengan
Cast: Koji Yakusho, Takayuki Yamada, Yusuke Iseya, Goro Inagaki, Masachika Ichimura, Mikijiro Hira
Running Time: 114/126 min.
“13 Assassins” is one of those rare films that comes out of nowhere – at this point in his career, was anybody really expecting Takashi Miike to direct a traditional samurai flick with sky-high production values? – and immediately garners a critical and cult following, while actually managing to live up to the hype. Every golden word you’ve heard about “13 Assassins” is true. This movie is epic, entertaining, and just plain bad-ass. Miike has over 70 films to his credit but “13 Assassins” is undoubtedly one of his best.
The cast is perfect. Koji Yukosho is a superstar in Japan (he starred in the original version of “Shall We Dance?”, cementing his fame) but most Westerners know him from Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s creepy thrillers like “Cure” and “Doppleganger.” He gives one of the best performances of his career as the lead samurai. Early on when he realizes how dire his mission is and he gets all teary-eyed knowing that he’s finally going to have a noble death in combat, I just wanted exclaim “Hell yeah!” It got my blood pumping knowing that everything in the first hour of the film was building up to a fateful battle.
Tsuyoshi Ihara (Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s “Retribution”) was a scene-stealer for me. He plays the masterless ronin and comes across as the toughest swordsman in the whole lot. His sequence set in the “graveyard of swords” was astounding. If you come across a larger display of bad-assery this year, please let me know. I liked his apprentice too – the kid looked all of 16 but definitely held his own on the battlefield.
Takayuki Yamada plays Koji Yukosho’s nephew and Miike fans may recognize him from the excellent “Crows: Episode Zero” films. He’s a talented young actor who I’m sure will go places. Yūsuke Iseya was a lot of fun to watch too, playing a forest bandit who may or may not actually be an immortal spirit of the land (a detail that was unfortunately cut from the international release of the film).
Here you have all these samurai, some more trained in combat than others, but they’re all dedicated warriors who are completely directionless in life because they live in an age of peace. The film takes place right at the twilight of the samurai era, before the Japanese military came in with their fancy machine guns from the West and shot everyone to pieces (as seen in the Tom Cruise white man fantasy “The Last Samurai”). “13 Assassins” is all about these guys’ last chance to die like men, with a sword in their hand
I’d say it’d enhance your viewing of the film to have a grasp on Japan’s ages old code of honor and the importance of things like seppuku (ritual suicide). I mean, you could just tune out everything and enjoy “13 Assassins” as an action flick, but to understand why 13 men would even bother to stand up against 200 soldiers, it’d probably help to keep an open mind about Japanese culture.
Strong performances, a stirring soundtrack, and a truly evil villain carry the film during its first two acts, which constitute an hour and 15 minutes of foreplay until the big battle. The finale does not disappoint – it’s nearly 40 minutes of nonstop samurai action. The assassins turn an entire town into a deathtrap that would make Macauley Culkin jealous (lame joke, I know). What follows is nothing short of a “Total Massacre,” as you will see in the film.
Sure, I wished that some of the minor assassins had been given more character development so we actually felt something other than “Who was that guy again?” when we witness their fate. But it’s already a lengthy film and I suppose Miike had to manage who got screentime. Then again, with a movie this good I doubt anybody would mind a longer runtime.
To make it short: if you’re reading this and you haven’t seen “13 Assassins” yet, you’ve got to get your priorities straight. This film is a legitimate modern classic and is guaranteed to go down as one of the best samurai movies of the past 20 years. True, Japan doesn’t make as many as they used but Takashi Miike has earned his place among the best. And here we never even suspected he had it in him.
HKFanatic’s Rating: 9/10
By Mighty Peking Man
Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki) is into kidnapping, sadistic torture, rape and murder. He’s the type of guy that would kill a child just to pass time. If a woman accommodates him with hot tea, he’ll most likely end up sexually assaulting her, if not stabbing her to death. Sometimes his victims are left speechless – literally – because he’s been known to mutilate their physical appearance by not only cutting off all their limbs, but also their tongues…
Here’s the rub: Naritsugu is the Shogun’s younger brother, so whether you love him or hate him, he’s extremely untouchable. Even saying something disrespectful about him can get you into serious trouble. What’s even worse is Naritsugu is about to ascend to a higher political position, which will make him more powerful than ever.
Naritsugu must be stopped.
Shinzaemon (Koji Yakusho) is a decorated samurai who accepts a secret mission to assassinate Lord Naritsugu. To complete his objective, he handpicks 12, exceptionally skilled samurai warriors to accompany him. However, it won’t be easy. Lord Naritsugu will be surrounded by 70+ of his loyal men on the day of the planned ambush. Shinzaemon and his team will have to rely more on luck, than skill, to come out victorious.
The fate of Feudal Japan’s future rests in the hands of these 13 brave men. If they fail, the psychotic Lord Naritsugu could one day become Shogun himself.
Takashi Miike’s “13 Assassins” (which is supposedly based on factual events) is a remake of the Eiichi Kudo’s 1963 film of the same name, which in turn was heavily inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” (1954). I haven’t seen the original, but if it’s anything like Miike’s, definitely count me in. Judging from certain scenes in the trailer, I can tell that Miike’s remake is very on-point with it.
I know I’ve said this many times, but I love it when a film has a simple, linear plot. I’m cool with surprises here and there, but I don’t need all these multiple twists and turns that seem to dominate a lot of movies these days.
“13 Assassins” is a straight forward samurai flick, at least as straight forward as a Takashi Miike film can get; In other words, there’s nothing extremely over the top, so if you’re expecting the outrageousness of “Visitor Q” or “Ichi the Killer,” you might be a tad disappointed. Even then, there should be enough blood, gore and unexpected shock value to keep you happy. I would honestly be surprised if there was a single soul out there who didn’t like this movie no matter what expectations they have (those awaiting Michael Bay’s next “Transformers” movie don’t count).
As far as action goes, it takes a good 40 minutes or so for “13 Assassins” to kick into gear, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the movie is slow. Everything that makes the bloody finale so great is due to the film’s brilliant build up: The introduction of just how sinister Naritsugu is; the background of the main characters; and the training and objectives of our 13 heroes.
Takashi Miike has made over 70 films since his debut in 1991. It’s well documented that there are some pretty spotty movies in his extensive, multi-genre filmography; which makes a lot of sense when you’re pumping out an average of 3 films a year. I’ve never came across a terrible film of his, but then again, I’ve only seen seen a handful of his movies.
Takashi Miike may not have a flawless track record, but with films like “13 Assassins” and “Audition,” he proves that he’s a master of his craft.
Mighty Peking Man’s Rating: 9/10