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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A brutal meditation on the absurdly extreme values of Japan's Samurai
era and the extraordinary human beings they shaped, 13 Assassins would
be a great film even if it didn't include one of the most awesome
martial arts battles in cinema history. Director Takashi Miike is
unflinching but never exploitative of either his characters' physical
or emotional anguish. He builds a solidly straight forward plot of
political and military maneuver and laces through it pointed
observations of Samurai culture and late feudal Japan. When he brings
his story to a climax with a jaw-droppingly daring fight scene that
takes up over a third of the film, there's nothing at all outsized or
excessive about any of it. The movie is so powerful and wrenching that
it couldn't have ended with anything less.
Lord Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki) is the half brother of Japan's ruling Shogun and unspeakably evil. He treats the rest of the world as if it exists for his empty amusement, which by law and custom of the day, it practically does. With the Shogun unwilling to punish or restrain the murderous madness of Naritsugu, his chief adviser (Mikijiro Hira) must take matters into his own hands. He tasks Samurai master Shinzaemon Shimada (Koji Yakusho) to assassinate Naritsugu before he can grow powerful enough to threaten the peace of all Japan. Shinzaemon assembles 11 warriors and one woodland hunter and sets an ambush, only for the 13 to find themselves facing over 200 loyal soldiers of Naritsugu who are led by Hanbei (Masachika Ichimura), an old friend and classmate of Shinzaemon and a better Samurai by far than his lord deserves.
While the moral outrages of Naritsugu and the righteous revenge of Shinzaemon dominate the surface of this motion picture, its underbelly is all about the perverse-by-modern standards culture of feudal Japan. It is not a world of freedom or liberty or even justice. It is a tyrannical existence of master and servant, where servant is more like slave. These storytellers are phenomenal at getting to the paradox at the heart of such authoritarian, autocratic societies. When they are built about a good master, the most amazing and inspiring things are possible. When the master is unworthy of such responsibility, however, life becomes a hell on earth for everyone including the master. Naritsugu commits the most repulsive of acts, yet stands revealed at the end as a man driven mad by his own empty and pointless existence.
The battle scene at the end is just wow. It isn't merely exciting and bloody. Director Miike brings out the soul of this kind of hand-to-hand, sword-to-sword combat. It's not intricately choreographed. It's hack and slash and run and fall and lunge. Guns are one of the greatest democratizing forces in human history in that an untrained novice can be as deadly as the most skilled gunman. With swords, one man who knows what he's doing can massacre scores of guys who don't. That vicious inequality is what Miike brings to the big ambush and he emphasizes it by having many of the 13 assassins die more from exhaustion than being outdueled.
I also want to salute these filmmakers for the different characterizations they bring to the different generations. The younger samurai are all rather rigid and on edge, so consumed with the demands of their position that there's almost a brittleness to them. The older samurai, however, have been around long enough to let go of the ridiculous demands of their lifestyle and ethic. They hold true to the samurai essence but are far less worried about following every last detail of protocol and propriety.
13 Assassins is an incredible motion picture. You should absolutely make an effort to watch it.
As the title implies, this is not a family picnic at a park on a Sunday
afternoon. Instead it is 1840s Japan and the time of the Samurai. A
Shogun's son spends his days and nights raping and pillaging the
otherwise peaceful community. Political machinations cause the bad boy
to rise high up in the chain of leaders and so an old warrior,
Shimzaemon gathers together eleven fellow Samurai to train for a
mission to assassinate the evil man, Naritsugu on his long trip home.
Their ambush is met with strong resistance from Naritsugu's men. The force is two hundred so they rely on guile to overcome being so outnumbered. The battle scenes, with swords, knives, arrows and explosives are beautifully choreographed and lead to an inevitable fight to the finish between a Samurai and Naritsugu. Although 13 Assassins covers a well worn theme, it is a journey worth taking.
I have been a admirer of Miike's work since Odishon and some of my
personal favorites include Ichi the Killer, Visitor Q, and Gozu. His
more recent work has shown far and fewer standouts. However, I've
always appreciated how Miike includes what he wants in his films no
matter how extreme or upsetting. This usually results in great
reactions from a live audience. His vision and non mainstream methods
of directing occur on different levels (sometimes WAY WAY different).
After viewing 13 Assassins, I must admit that Miike has successfully
mesmerized me again with this dark tale.
Miike uses a big budget to collaborate the sets, location, weaponry and authentic clothing to really show the times of feudal Japan. Very minimal cgi is used (although one highlight scene garnered a great response in my theater) and the sound effects are powerful ranging from heavy horse hoofs, arrows in-flight, and blade striking blade. Shinzaemon and his nephew Shinrouko really shine. Any scene with Koyata is a blast and he really stands out anytime on screen. I liked how the Assassins and Lord Naritsugu's troops are both well versed in war with the no mercy rule in full effect. Few weak links on either side makes war that much more interesting.
I'd recommend seeing 13 Assassins. It will most likely be an addition to my cinema library.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I don't see many Japanese films but I love a good samurai movie and you
don't see many of them these days. "The Last Samurai" (2003) was an
American effort, yet rather good. "13 Assassins" is more authentic in
being Japanese and is in fact a remake of another Japanese work of
1963. The director Takashi Miike is noted for being prolific (this was
shot in just two weeks) and excessive (this is certainly a bloodfest,
although somewhat restrained by past standards). Using a minimum of
CGI, this is a gritty, muddy conflict in which limbs are lost and heads
Set in 1844, at the end of the Edo period of rule by the shoguns, the story pits the noble warrior Shinzaemon (Kôji Yakusho) and 12 volunteers for death against the brutal Lord Naritsugu (Gorô Inagaki) and his entourage of 200 soldiers. After a slow process of selection and training of the assassins - a process familiar from both "Seven Samurai" and "The Magnificent Seven" - we have a terrific last three-quarters of an hour of non-stop combat in a deserted village. It would not be a spoiler to tell you that, at the end of its all, not many are left standing. Not since "The Wild Bunch" in 1969 have I seen such a concluding orgy of death.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
13 ASSASSINS. The Dirty Baker's Dozen? Prolific Japanese director Takashi Miike (Audition, etc) leaves behind his preferred milieu of gangster thrillers and horror movies to venture confidently into Kurosawa territory with this sword and samurai action film, set in mid-19th century feudal Japan. 13 Assassins is a remake of Eiichi Kudo's 1963 black and white samurai movie of the same name, but infused with Miike's distinctive brand of graphic violence and carnage. A band of thirteen mercenary warriors and samurai set off on a suicide mission to kill the sadistic and bloodthirsty Lord Naritsugu (Gorô Inagaki), whose actions threaten to undo the years of peace that Japan has enjoyed. Cue plenty of swordplay, bloody action, mayhem, decapitations, and a body count that would make the likes of Tarantino envious. The film is slow to start as it spends a bit of time delving into the political machinations of Japan under the rule of the shogun. But once the film gets down to action it is full on as Naritsugu's army is lured into a booby-trapped village of Ochia. The climactic battle sequence is epic in scale, and occupies much of the film's generous running time. Miike directs these exhilarating scenes with gusto, and revels in the carnage. His action scenes make films like 300, with its CGI armies, pale by comparison. Like Peckinpah's classic The Wild Bunch, which echoed the death of the old west, so too does 13 Assassins reflect the death of the samurai code and way of life in Japan. Characterisation is fairly slim, especially given so many characters, and Miike doesn't give us enough detail about many of the characters to allow us the engage fully with them or empathise with their fate. Veteran Japanese actor Koji Yakusho (Babel, Memoirs Of A Geisha, etc), brings a sense of gravitas to his role as Shinzaemon, the veteran and principled samurai leading the gang of mercenaries. 13 Assassins is a formulaic film for sure, but it also succeeds as a wonderful homage to the samurai cinema of yesteryear and classic like The Seven Samurai.
wow, what a phenomenal movie... the most similar movie i've seen to it is Seven Samurai (as many other people have said). however, i thought Seven Samurai moved way too slow. 13 assassins wasn't too fast, and i thought it was great how they showed all the preparation and whatnot at the beginning as well as demonizing the evil lord (so you sympathize with the assassins). anyway, excellent movie. basically Seven Samurai but updated for a more modern audience. definitely worth watching. the second half of the movie is basically an epic samurai battle and is extremely well done. it forgoes the standard sort of battle and instead involves lots of traps.
In feudal Japan, the heir to the current Shogun, Lord Naritsugu, is a
sadistic devil, raping and murdering at will doesn't matter if it's
peasants, samurai families or anywhere in-between and because of his
standing, nobody will stand up to him. Until samurai Shinzaemon (Koji
Yakusho) gathers together a dozen intrepid samurai, and picks up one
very odd peasant hunter to make 13 assassins, determined to stop
Naritsugu at all costs. Doing so means buying a village and rigging it
up as a death trap, and being completely prepared to die horribly, as
long as the mission is accomplished. Will the 13 assassins manage to
win against all odds? Will the evil Lord Naritsugu see his comeuppance
finally? Well, you'll have to see the movie to find out....
At FantAsia 2011, we were treated to the Director's Cut of this film, the director being Takashi Miike, who can sometimes be uneven in his work, but here he does an extraordinary job. The last hour of the film is essentially an extended fight scene and even I, someone who doesn't feel a need for a lot of fight scenes in a film, didn't get tired of it or bored it was just amazing to watch. The actors are all terrific, and the film takes the time for the audience to get to know the characters, to admire the brave samurai who are all fighting for various reasons but mainly for love of honour, and to roundly despise and hate the evil Naritsugu (played marvellously as a bored aristocrat by Goro Inagaki); the viewer is invested in these characters, and that makes this film truly remarkable. I don't know if Japanese mythology has a Trickster God similar to Coyote in some Native American traditions, but the indestructible peasant the samurai meet in the forest is very much a Coyote character, who adds immeasurably to the humour of the piece as well. Recommended.
13 Assassins is that big budgeted, ramped up samurai action picture in
the same spirit as Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, where a group of
skilled swordsmen get their destiny all charted out when the people
look toward their expertise to uphold justice, and the men stepping up
to be counted in the face of societal adversity. It's that typical
story of moral courage of a few good men chosen to execute a mission to
try and reset the status quo, or die trying while at it.
Miike's film is structured in a wonderfully simple way, and it starts off with perversion in introducing the main villain, Naritsugu Matsudaira (Goro Inagaki) who is the Shogun's brother, but earning a reputation of being a cold heated killer, rapist, and just hell bound bad guy with zero morals or respect for the sanctity of human life. This film would not have worked without this basic, powerful half hour set up where a character so vile gets luxuriously painted to get you to thoroughly hate the person, his action and his guts, while painting him to also be a formidable, skilled opponent that you wonder just how difficult it would be to get to him for a face off, but how delightful it would be to finally get that shot to take him down.
The film then launches into its midsection which played out like a typical heist movie, with the recruitment of the would be perpetrators and an introduction to what they bring to the table, coupled with the meticulous planning in preparing for an almost suicidal mission where a few men would be taking on an army, guessing and second guessing intent and what the enemy would likely react to any planted changes, in an effort to stay an extra step ahead. And there's the tense face off between the leaders from both camps, rivals once when young and now standing on opposites, engaging in barbed dialogue and scare-mongering, psychological tactics to size up a known opponent. It's a poignant scene on how each are duty bound by their orders through their honour and the usual samurai values they live and die by.
With 13 heroic characters crammed into 141 minutes meant an unequal amount of screen time getting devoted to each of them, so a tradeoff becomes inevitable, but the ones who do get introduced in depth thankfully turned out to be as varied and as interesting as can be. There's the leader Shinzaemon Shimada (Koji Yakusho) who got tasked to take up this mission, and in doing so assembled his team which included trusted deputy Saheita Kuranaga (Hiroki Matsukata), a star pupil Kuzuro Hirayama (Tsuyoshi Ihara) whose skill is excellent par none, and various other inner circle, trusted members to undertake this secret mission, including his nephew Shinrokuro Shimada (Takayuki Yamada who also worked in Takeshi Miike twice in the successful Crows Zero series) a compulsive gambler and womanizer who's obviously in this mission on a quest for redemption.
But the character of Koyata Saga (Yusuke Iseya) served as the most interesting of the lot, not being of samurai stock, and chanced upon by Shinzaemon and team en route through a forest, before Koyata's wit and know how in navigation earned his place to be with them. Providing a fair share of comedy and critique on the ways of the samurai, I thought this chap personified a higher being for his stunning turnaround scene at the end which may leave some bewildered, as well as to provide Miike an outlet to deal with some of his more signature stuff, including Koyata's an incredibly large member and high sex drive which did stick out like a sore thumb in the more serious build up where Shinzaemon's troops got down to fortifying and booby-trapping the village.
One needs to look no further than the two Crows Zero films to know that Miike can deliver full scale assaults with balletic qualities, accentuated by an adrenaline pumping soundtrack. If it's action you're craving, 13 Assassins delivers by the loads through a gloriously choreographed 45 minute action set piece utilizing a series of weapons from bows and arrows, spears and explosives, where it becomes like a reverse Bodyguards and Assassins where every angle of the ambushed town got covered in blood and body parts, with plenty of on-screen dismemberment of limbs. It's no holds barred where the element of surprise, and the discovery of being grossly outnumbered, brings forth that sense of inevitable dread amongst those from both sides, as one seeks to cut off the head of the hydra, while the other frantically looking for a way out of being uncharacteristically cornered. Plenty of pathos got built in as well especially in that final few fights, where you will find it hard not to weep for the fallen.
It isn't easy to take down the corrupt who have power and the sworn loyalty amongst the powerful, but this film inspires in that provision of hope that so long as good and able men are willing to make that sacrifice for the common good, there is still that fighting chance to make right the things that have gone wrong under the hands of the criminal. Even Fate would also lend a hand. Definitely highly recommended as this swash-buckles its way to be amongst the best of this year's selection.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
being a Samurai is truly a burden."
Two Samurai clans are at peace until the half-brother of a powerful shogun starts destroying all the people under him (such as servants, women, and childrenthis sadistic cretin kills anything that breathes) leading to the selection of 13 assassins who will vow to kill the evil Lord Naritsugu (Gorô Inagaki; a villain in the grand tradition of Miike's movies, cold-blooded, soulless, with an empty void incapable of feeling for those he harms). Shinzaemon Shimada (Kôji Yakusho; a force of nature) and nephew Shinrouko (Takayuki Yamada) are members of this suicide Samurai squad, with no other goal than to put an end to Lord Naritsugu before his gaining of further power on a high counsel. Sir Doi (Mikijiro Hira), powerless himself to stop Lord Naritsugu (he must obey his master), commissions Shimada for the mission, knowing that if he hears stories of what the madman has done to his own people, it might convince him to accept what will certainly be the embrace of an eventual demise. All of this started when Lord Naritsugu raped the daughter-in-law and killed the son of a Samurai in his own village; this village, ironic enough, will be the place where Shinzaemon and his twelve assassins(they pick up a bandit along the way who actually helps them reach an important road after getting lost in the wilderness) go to battle with Naritsugu's 200 man army, the scene of the crime which caused everything afterward. Masachika Ichimura is Shinzaemon's lifelong rival, Hanbei Kitou, who will protect his lord with all his might. Regardless of what Lord Naritsugu had done, Kitou is devoted to his master, as is the Samurai code, but Shinzaemon has dedicated himself to a greater cause, defending the endless slaughter of many innocent people.
Miike's old school Samurai opus features quite an extended battle for the finale. It's an incredible conclusion, stretching credibility to the max (seriously, 13 men being able to mow through 200 + men is asking us to go out on a limb, wouldn't you say?), with some amazing, exhilarating camera work and editing showing all kinds of action throughout the villagethis is not an easy feat considering you have Shinzaemon's Samurai spread out the village engaging in furious combat with Lord Naritsugu's army. I imagine many will find the Samurai swordfighting a bit repetitive after a while since it consists largely of bodies en masse falling, the sound effects of metal slicing flesh really signifying an enlarging body count. Yakusho emulates Toshiro Mifune, exuding a quiet strength and exemplifies integrity, his fate an example of fighting with dignity, for a purpose that defies the common Samurai code warriors are raised to upheld. Inagaki's Naritsugu truly believes that servants can be treated anyway their master so pleases, property to be dealt with as he sees fit. If a psychopath is allowed even more power than he already has, only further horror awaits peasants and village citizens in the area within and around Edo. Shinzaemon also fights to keep him from receiving this honor. Not as graphically violent as you might expect: Miiki even keeps the camera from showing the spilling entrails of those who commit hara kiri, respecting these characters instead of exploiting them to give gore fans extra kicks. The film, like a lot of Samurai films, takes its time setting up for the great battle (the Samurai train against one another), as Shinzaemon and company fortify the village, creating booby traps and explosives for Lord Naritsugu's army, even though by the end the strength in numbers makes things difficult for our heroes.
Being the film buff that I like to pretend I am, I am still yet to see
Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai- a work that has supposedly spawned many
films since and is widely regarded as one of the first films to
introduce plot structures such as recruiting a group of characters to
to accomplish a specific goal and having a main hero undertake a task
unrelated to the main plot. 13 Assassins leans on this movie which it
has clearly been influenced by.
The story follows the efforts of a group of samurai as they aim to assassinate the evil Lord Naritsugu (Gorô Inagaki) whose malevolence and monstrosities against his people know no bounds. Unable to touch Naritsugu due to his links with the former and current shogun , a senior politician realises that he has to be stopped before he obtains a higher rank and becomes an even more dangerous threat. He secretly enlists the help of a trusted samurai Shinzaemon Shimada (Kôji Yakusho) to gather a group of samurai together with the task of eliminating Naritsugu.
Despite me not being the best judge of the way of the samurai, I was not born in the 1840's in Japan, I felt that 13 Assassins portrayed what it could well have been like during that time. Setting the film in a time of relative peace was a good choice as it meant many of the samurai had no real life combat experience or know-how which gave them more depth- they are trained killing machines and yet for some of them, they have never even killed.
The main draw of this movie is the combat sequences and action shots which are impressive to say the least. The whole movie is basically enacting out one long battle scene with the first half setting up the characters and the last hour being dedicated to the massive battle scene. There is quite a bit of gore to keep an eye out for in both the fighting scenes and others with many limbs being severed and plenty of guts on show. The fighting scenes are well done although if I had to find fault, I would say at points it did feel as it the samurai were fighting wave after wave of enemies leading to it feeling a bit 'samey' and instead of heading straight for Naritsugu the samurai felt compelled to slash their way through the footmen first when they could have gone for him straight away. But that's just me nitpicking.
The number of unfamiliar Japanese names being mentioned along with the fact that the samurai are all wearing similar attire and have the same haircut whilst having to spend time reading subtitles rather than watching can lead to some confusion. This does fall away though while the movie progresses as the characters take on more individual personalities especially within the samurai group.
Credit must go to director Takashi Miike who not only has created a beautiful movie in terms of cinematography and direction but also has brought the honour, tradition and way of life of the samurai and Japanese culture to the viewer in emphatic fashion. Awesome fight scene, solid acting and the ability to not shy away from the gore lead me to wanting to watch this again.
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