The story of Thirteen Assassins begins with a vassal of the Akashi clan committing seppuku in front of a daimyo's house. As it turns out, it's in protest to his lord raping and killing a girl and her samurai husband. This scandal is quickly covered up as the Akashi lord happens to be the Shogun's younger brother. What makes matters worse is that this reckless scoundrel will be soon appointed to a higher political position which could prove to be detrimental for the entire Shogunate. In response to that, a plot is hatched: 13 assassins will undertake the suicide mission to murder him on his way back from Edo.
The movie can be roughly split in two parts. The first hour is purely character-driven, in a anti-establishment style that resembles Masaki Kobayashi and his masterful work in Seppuku and Samurai Rebellion. The last half hour is totally action-oriented as we see the Akashi clan entourage being trapped in a village and fighting to protect their lord, at which point the film channels heavily the corresponding part of Seven Samurai.
Very good, obscure, jidai-geki from the 60's done in stark monochrome, the genre's proper palette. Kudo is a moderate talent who draws heavily from the tradition of filmmaking he belongs to, but competently executes his material.
We find here familiar jidai-geki themes; oppression of the weak by those in authority, old friends that have to face off, a vassal that sees how villainous his lord is yet he doesn't hesitate to sacrifice his life for him. It's not quite as elaborate and tragic as Kobayashi's work and is pretty much abandoned after the first half hour where the emphasis shifts to the planning of the assassination, but it still provides a solid dramatic backdrop. The final battle could have been better though, not bad by any means but it won't make any best-final-fights lists either.
Overall a very solid and commendable effort, beautiful to look at with a nice story and some action to go with it. Fans of the genre will want to take a look.
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