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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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As much as we hate to admit, violence is entertaining. Why else would
the WWE be so popular? One might even agree that violence is in itself,
entertainment. Witnessing the madness and chaos that are involved in an
act of physical violence is both thrilling and arresting simply because
they are out of place in most of our 9-5, middle-class, democratically-
governed realities. In other words, through it we find escapism. Not
only that, appealing to the cavemen (and cavewomen) in us all, there is
a sense of liberation too in watching violence. When a movie opens with
a realistic cringe-inducing scene of a man performing the infamous
hara-kiri or self-disembowelment, you know that you are in for a treat.
Despite the historical and cultural contexts which might be unfamiliar
to some, the epic film stays dedicated to engage the audience. With
scenes involving exploding bodies followed by showers of blood (yes,
they do have bombs during the feudal times), hacked limbs and rolling
heads, the explicit no-holds-barred violence is intended to surprise
yet fascinate the audience with morbid, unthinkable gore that are not
out of place in contemporary horror movies like the Saw franchise.
At the heart of all the madness in this film is the evil Lord Naritsugu. Used to not hearing no to every destructive whim and fancy thanks to his ties to the shogunate, he develops a nihilistic complex that is so extreme that the only sane reaction would be nervous laughter. Well, at least that was what the writer found herself doing. Without giving away the details, the lord rapes, tortures and kills just for kicks. He even eats a whole fish with his face buried in it. Ermm, yeah. Set to take over the reins of feudal Japan, he worries all those who still believe in hope and justice. Enter the 13 Assassins a band of samurais who are keen on posing a much-delayed challenge to the insane lord with the intention of defeating him.
One should be wary to simply label the film as a mindless samurai bloodfest. Coupled with a classic good versus evil plot are insights into a world that is exclusive to those who are born in it. Directed by Takashi Miike who is probably most well-known for his ultraviolent controversial film Ichi the Killer, 13 assassins serves to explore with meaning the ways of the samurai. In an age where samurai heroics are dying and kept strictly to the dojo, the audience is posed with questions regarding the strict nature of the samurai lifestyle and its complex repercussions to society and the samurai himself. Known for their loyalty to their cause, the film asks if a good samurai can still be respected for his loyalty even if his cause is bad.
Spanning two hours, the film takes its time to deliver both a subtext- filled story and entertainment to the audience. And from that, you should take the cue to prepare yourselves for a 45 minute long battle scene that is nothing short of epic.
The plot here is basically about 13 assassins getting together in order
to defeat a evil dictator or tyrant. His way of getting what he wants
no matter who he kills or rapes makes you really loath him. The plot
may seem very simple but it's the execution of it all that really
drives this movie. This really is a entertaining flick that adds to the
excitement with good action scenes and because it makes you believe in
their cause to fight. This is a brutal movie but it's difficult not to
be against the brutality the assassins dish out. The task at hand may
come off simple at first but leads to a lot more, however the constant
reference to the way of the samurai or samurai code gets overused a bit
and gets overplayed. While not giving something new that most warriors
in general follows. The build up is done well enough and the sword
fighting sequences are cool because of it's method and tactics before
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
13 Assassins, a Golden Lion nominee at Venice, is a sumptuously
photographed film that is excellently set-up by the filmmakers,
features an action-packed second half whose intensity rivals that of
the climatic hospital sequence in John Woo's shoot-'em-up masterpiece
Hard Boiled (1992), and ends on a slightly ambiguous note that
unfortunately feels a tad too surreal for a film that is anything but.
Directed by Takashi Miike, the infamous director of insanely violent
films such as Dead or Alive (1999), Audition (2000), and Ichi the
Killer (2001), 13 Assassins is surprisingly tame in comparison, though
I must say the decision not to make this a gore fest is spot on.
The premise is as simple as it can be: Lord Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki) is the evil younger brother of the current Shogun who enjoys torturing and killing women and children to satisfy his weird desire for violence and lust. A group of samurais, led by Shinzaemon (Koji Yakusho), is hired to assassinate him before he ascends politically to the top and declares war on peaceful clans. The mission is extremely tough because Lord Naritsugu is protected by hundreds of men and a master samurai called Hanbei (Masachika Ichimura), who trained with Shinzaemon when they were apprentices, adding a layer of intrigue.
The villainous nature of Lord Naritsugu is depicted very well. Early scenes show his cruelty, in particular a vile scene that sees him shoot arrows at a family that is tied up, including a small boy. There is also a very disturbing scene featuring a nude woman with all her limbs severed, with a character explaining how she is used as a sexual plaything. The soulless eyes of actor Inagaki and his lack of emotion towards human suffering are very effective in building a strong sense of hatred for his character.
In comparison, there is no one strong protagonist, though Shinzaemon comes close. Like Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (1954), the samurais in Miike's film are collectively portrayed as both battle-hardened tacticians with skills to outwit any foe and overly enthusiastic warriors who know the meaning of sacrifice. But unlike Kurosawa's masterpiece, each samurai's personality in 13 Assassins, with the exception of Shinzaemon, is developed only minimally and enough for the function of plot. Very predictably, there is the requisite sword duel in the climax, which gives us a relatively quiet moment of calm in what is a loud and chaotic second hour that while relentlessly entertaining, may be a trifle too overwhelming for some.
In a nutshell, 13 Assassins is guilty pleasure for seekers of violent action who are patient enough to wait for its execution. This Miike film is well-directed and should provide an interesting alternative to the loud fanfare of Hollywood summer blockbusters.
GRADE: B+ (8/10 or 3.5 stars)
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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A remake of a 1966 Eiichi Kudo film, Takashi Miike's "13 Assassins"
finds a small band of elite samurai embarking upon a mission to
assassinate the sadistic young Lord Naritsugu.
The film belongs firmly to the "men on a mission" genre ("The Dirty Dozen", "Ocean's Eleven", "Seven Samurai", "300", "The Magnificent Seven" notice a trend?), in which a leader typically puts together a team of misfits and specialists and then embarks upon a mission against ridiculously superior odds. Here the first half of Miike's film is spent interviewing and gathering men for the assignment, followed by a 45 minute battle in which our 13 assassins square off against hundreds of enemy soldiers. It's a Pekinpah/Spielberg inspired bloodbath, in which our heroes nobly accomplish their mission, before themselves dying.
In terms of flaws, the film's script lacks surprise, and Miike too often ignores strategy in favour for repetitive hack and slashing. Miike's battles themselves lack spatial sense, and are often unrealistic. The film does eventually win us over with its sheer, bloody relentlessness, but a better director would have added a more tactical, and intellectual kick and thereby more drama to the wordy, political battles of the film's first half, and bloody physical battles of the second.
Like most samurai films, "13 Assassins" espouses simple, even offensive values sacrifice, submission, murder, honour, servitude etc though it eventually pushes past such things and enters somewhat original territory. Here, Miike's ragged band of heroes advocate nothing less than making your own leaders bleed before they get into power. Only with this asserted pressure, this constant threat of force, will they then govern with fairness. It's an interesting idea - reverse dictatorship, where the populace governs its rulers with fear? but one which the film has no real interest exploring.
7.9/10 Worth one viewing. See instead: "Twilight Samurai", "Hara-kiri", "The Seven Samurai", Hiroshi Inagaki's "Samurai Trilogy", "The Hidden Blade", "47 Ronin", "Yojimbo", "Sanjuro", "Kiru", "Throne of Blood", "Goyokin" (1969), "Chushingura" (1962), "Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance", "Samurai Assassin" (1965 version), Kurosawa's sublime "Ran", and the great Masaki Kobayashi's "Samurai Rebellion".
"As a samurai in this era of peace I've been wishing for a noble death,
now fate has called me here." After being told of the horrors of the
evil Lord Naritsugu Matsudaira (Inagaki), Shinzaemon Shimada (Yakusho)
recruits a group of 13 samurai to stage a suicide mission and kill him.
As I have said before I am not a big fan of martial arts type movies.
While this was more of a strict samurai movie, I have to say this movie
was excellent. Not knowing much of the history behind the samurai I was
surprised to learn how guerrilla like their tactics were. The first
half of the movie is a little, not slow necessarily but more deliberate
in the pacing. It involves the reasons why Lord Naritsugu must be
killed and the training. When the actual battle starts you will be glad
you watched. The choreography is artfully done and the fighting is
very, very brutal, but in a way that it's not in your face bloody.
Very, very well done. For anyone that loves these type of movies this
will probably be one of the greatest movies they have ever seen. For
someone like me that is not a big fan of this genre it is still an
excellent movie and actually makes me want to see more movies like
this. Overall, a very well done samurai movie that will appeal to all
audiences, not just the martial arts crowd. I give it a A-.
Would I watch again? - I think I actually might.
*Also try - Legend Of The Fist & Hero
"A group of assassins come together for a suicide mission to kill an
And that's it. The most succinct yet accurate and appropriately detailed plot summary I've read lately on IMDb.
The fight choreography was fantastic.
Review done. There was nothing more to it. No character development, no plot twists, no turns or surprises - nothing.
The cruelty of the evil lord was most memorable and sometimes, I felt, given the film's almost total lack of depth, gratuitous. In fact, the problem with the evil lord was he was SO evil death was too good for him! So that left you holding the bag when it came time to resolve all that you'd seen from him.
The (very) ending was great. It SORT OF made up for the evil lord but not quite.
All-in-all the film was entertaining.
If you liked the Seven Samurai this will be right up your alley. In fact, it's little more than an updated version, and stylishly done at that. If you're looking for a more historically accurate version of late fuedal Japan you won't find it here. If you're looking for good Samurai kicking the bad Samurai's asses, this is your ticket. It's your classic good vs. bad action flick, albeit done with a classical panache. No love interests, no grey areas, just the good guys - vastly outnumbered - versus the bad guys. Beautifully shot, with some amazing action, it'll make you wish you were one of the good guys, taking names and kicking ass too! A rollicking good Japanese spaghetti style eastern.
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