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Takashi Miike, notable from his excessive portrayal of sexuality and
ghastly violence on his films "Audition" (1999) and Ichi: The Killer,
is on top of his game once more. His next picture "13 Assassins" is a
true masterpiece since the late and legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa
reign supreme. Probably influenced by his unforgettable works in the
Japanese film industry, Miike is simply engrossed with the idea that he
himself could revive his notion into something bold and more
compelling. And there's no denying the fact that Miike has outdid it
gain, with a compelling story and strong performances, he follows Mr.
Kurosawa's legendary epic with a touch of his modern and relentless
style of filmmaking.
The film is a slam-bang remake of Eiichi Kudo's film back in 1963 of the same title, though it didn't go well that year. The story is set in 1844, the medieval Japan is threatened by the barbaric Lord Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki), and is posed as threat for the Japanese era and is becoming powerful. After the hara-kiri protest of one of the Namiya Clan members, the protagonist shogun samurai Shinzaemon Shimada (Koji Yakusho) is summoned by a shogun adviser Sir Doi (Makijiro Hira) to listen to the tragedy of Makino Uneme, whose son and daughter-in-law have been murdered by Naritsugu.
After Sir Doi has revealed what Lord Naritsugu has done brutally with a woman, Shinza has been requested to defeat Lord Naritsugu to avenge her and all the people who have been murdered by Naritsugu's madness. Though the senior shogun adviser cannot defeat Naritsugu, Shinza gathers 13 samurai and plots to defeat him and his samurais, 200 warriors to be exact. Takashi Miike has the wit that a number 13 samurai warriors may and can defeat a number of 200 villains, even though the odds are pretty rare. Pretty much like Zack Snyder's 300, but I wouldn't compare this one into a somewhat mediocre sleaze-fest premise that Snyder made.
13 Assassins is a big-budget Blaxploitation film fueled with breathtaking narrative, great cinematography and costume design that really fulfills the wish of an epic world for Miike fans. The characterization is sharp and develops some humor which is evident in most of Miike's filmography. Though it'll take some gradual time before the film takes off to what the viewers are waiting for. As any Miike films filled with fountains of gore, 13 Assassins is a bloody-wish fulfillment.
The action remains to be the longest samurai battle of this century, but it is absurd to look at the time when it's over. It'll make you glued to the screen and harness a great action film. It's bloody and gripping especially when the Samurais are now engaging in a killing spree of clanging swords. It's impossible to resist an action battle like this.
Much has been said about the narrative, it's also quite long and talky. It'll take time before the action to arrive. But the film is ingenious on dialogue and is decisive. No matter how long we wait for the greatest moment on the film, it still matters how great the actors were. It is a balance of diminutive drama with more laughs and much more anticipation. But what it really bothers me is that somehow the film relied on CGI effects, though it's not that noticeable.
More and more films will still follow Miike's love of the Samurai films. Having said so, the next film he will direct is Hara-Kiri: The Death of a Samurai in 2012. I'm not quite sure whether fans would think of it as a sure bet for another Takashi Miike experience, but what the hell, if he can make a good film as good as 13 Assassins, I'm already sure that the next great experience is still yet to come.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Like many of the best Japanese directors, the versatile Takashi Miike makes seamless transitions from genre to genre. The results vary, of course, but in general are satisfying. 13 ASSASSINS is the by-now-familiar tale of a group of samurai recruited to save a village. (While Akira Kurosawa's SEVEN SAMURAI happens to be the greatest movie ever made, I don't really have a problem with the basic premise being borrowed for "reinterpretation"- though one WOULD like to think that contemporary versions were being undertaken to ADD to the mythology and not just to cash in on the originality of the original.) If I have a complaint (or two) about 13 ASSASSINS, it's in the way over the top fx: explosions one can kinda sorta accept (gunpowder, and all that), but the apparently very hastily constructed moving walls were altogether a bit much- and the minimal wirework could've been scrubbed completely without sacrificing anything at all. The Big Battle is good in that it gives one just a hint of how physically and emotionally wearing just such a confrontation might be. My final gripe is more confusion than anything else: was the guy at the end a ghost, or what...?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
13 Assassins is a surprising development from Takashi Miike; one that I
hope doesn't continue. Coming from him, even the inevitable carnage
that unfolds on screen is surely modest. An explanation might lie in
the fact that this is a remake of a half-century-old film, which could
explain his unusual restraint. Perhaps fidelity to the source material
which is based on a notable incident of recent Japanese history
mandated rigidity with regards to the narrative. It's isn't bad as much
as it's surprisingly inert. Still, of all of the ways the movie could
have undone itself, its adroit avoidance of glamorizing the historical
period in which occurs or cheaply exploiting its heroes' masculinity is
admirable in our era of shallow epics. This allows it to actually work
as the biopic it purports to be, unlike many of its contemporaries.
Miike's direction is evident, though it's odd to praise the subversive
director of films like Ichi the Killer for being conventional.
The story occurs late in the Edo period, which ended around the 1860's. This was when shoguns ruled the country through hereditary titles and military superiority. Samurais were their personnel who kept them in power, though some samurais were independent. So if a bad guy happened to inherit power, there was little the people could do to resist him. Many conventional movies have emerged from this setup, and this one fits nicely within its predecessors. 13 Assassins is the story of how a small group of samurai managed to overcome a force of 200 men in a small village.
Aging Shinzaemon recruits 11 men and sets out to kill Matsudaira, a local tyrant who loves to dismember and rape. There's nothing of note here until Shinzaemon splits his forces in two and sends one to the forest to take a short cut and the other to ready a village for capturing Matsudaira. The forest group encounters the movie's best character, Kiga, who adds some beneficial comedy to the leaden script. Kiga isn't a samurai at all, but the group reconvenes and adopts him as its final member. He may not even be human either, though you wouldn't know that without either being Japanese or reading Wikipedia.
The group meets at the village for ambushing Matsudaira, and actually manages to kill a lot of them before they die individually. Miike depicts their heroics and deaths like battles are normally shown in modern films. Each warrior gets his own screen time and occasional banter, though only Kiga's is memorable. He treats the entire scenario, including his own death, as a farce. Of all the stupid ways masculinity forces people to act irrationally, the belief that one must die to uphold an intangible honor is irrational, and thus bizarre. Mentioning this through Kiga was a great touch while he making a film in support of this crazy ideology. Eventually one samurai triumphs and is greeted by an otherworldly Kiga before the film ends.
13 Assassins is actually more worthwhile than I may have made you to think. If you haven't seen any of his earlier treasures, don't see this one yet. It's an unremarkable effort from a director full of films that are uniquely his, as you should see for yourself. The only Miike subversion I identified is Kiga's character, though he remains static throughout the entire picture. Miike recycles him from his first appearance to the end with little else to offer more demanding audiences.
Very well made with some quite awesome fight scenes, so hats off to the
stunt guys and fight arrangers (great stuff!). I found the beginning of
the film very confusing, there is a lot about the politics of the day
and I found it hard to decipher just who was doing what to whom. After
a while though the threads of the plot did begin to make sense and I
found it much easier to follow (& enjoy). In many ways it did put me in
mind of two films; 'The Magnificent Seven' (based on the 'Seven
Samurai' which sill lurks on my 'to see' list), and 'The Dirty Dozen'.
Both fine films in their own right, but I could see links to both of
them here. For me, I felt the level violence (& gore) could have been
turned up a notch, but I guess they really wanted that 15 certificate.
Over all though, I found it a very enjoyable film and one I have no
problem in deeming RECOMMENDED (provided you have no fear of subtitles
My score: 8.4/10
IMDb Score: 7.7/10 (based on 19,910 votes at the time of going to press).
MetaScore: 87/100: (Based on 23 critic reviews provided by Metacritic.com at the time of going to press).
Rotten Tomatoes 'Tomatometer' Score: 85/100 (based on 111 reviews counted at the time of going to press).
Rotten Tomatoes 'Audience' Score: 88/100 'Liked It' (based on 17,600 user ratings counted at the time of going to press).
You can find an expanded version of this review on my blog: Thoughts of a SteelMonster.
This movie takes place during the Tokugawa era, nearing the Meiji restoration, where samurai are virtually non-existent or considered a relic of history. I am no Japanese history expert, nor am I skilled with a sword, but as a martial artist I certainly respect and sympathize with many of their cultural values, as well as the shared understanding of the warrior spirit. With 13 different samurai, it is easy for a vast audience to identify with at least one of the characters. This movie inspired me to take my weapons training more seriously, thus resulting in some nunchaku adequacy as well as some katana insight.
All the obligatory elements of samurai lore go into making this one an
essential entry into the canon.
Miike's darker elements have been toned down considerably, although not eradicated entirely, relying on story and action to supply the entertainment rather than shocks.
In fact, apart from the opening few scenes, the film is a largely straight samurai action movie driven by plot, character and scenes, which while always being entirely derivative of the source material, still feels fresh.
The final section of the film certainly delivers on the promise of its set-up. Highly recommended.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The film by acclaimed Japanese director Takashi Miike is about 13
samurais tasked to assassinate an evil Shogun lord before he can sit in
full power and be a tyrant. At the core of this is the samurai code of
obedience vs. doing what you know is right in order to protect the
This is no doubt a great homage to Seven Samurai and I welcome it with both arms wide open. Some characters in this film are very reminiscent of the beloved classic. The first half features how our samurai protagonist, Shinzaemon (Kôji Yakusho), recruits samurais for this mission and planning the assembly. We also see how the Shogun lord (Gorô Inagaki) is painted to be the villain with no redeeming factors whatsoever. Because of his deeds you as a viewer would happily see him die. The build up in the first half is quite slow but it all leads to the epic second half of pure battle. If there is another movie that I can think of with the same plot line aside from Seven Samurai it's got to be 300.
I've only seen 4 films from this director but if I can describe his films I have to say they are collectively "cool." How this film was shot is fantastic. There was an amazing scene where a "sweeping camera" effect was utilized. By the opening shot you just hear voices talking and slowly, with the sweeping motion the subject enters on the far right side of the screen. By the time the sweep finishes he (subject) is on the left side lower frame even if he didn't move at all. This says a lot on how it was thought of because you have to time these things from the dialogue to the camera movement to the positioning of the characters. The photography is clean and orderly and each frame looks very nice. The film is R rated but some of the violence are implied (thank goodness) and wasn't dwelled upon, oddly from a Miike film. When someone does a hacking it is out of frame and the focus is only on the facial reaction of the poor fellow. If it isn't out of frame it is a very quick shot. I have to mention this because there are some films that would really show to you the full out violence. For example, when someone stabs another, they really focus on the stabbing part, making it all gruesome and dramatic and a stomach-turner. Here I find the violence to be just the right mix, without it being too gory and manipulated (or maybe I just watch many gory films and I find this tame in comparison.) Some scenes are very haunting and disturbing though.
The characters are mostly caricatures but I find myself still rooting for them. Their growth didn't come on deep conversations or choices they make but it was really on the battlefield where they exercised strength and bravery. Some aren't given the focus though so as a viewer I got confused on who's who. There was a particularly cool character named Hirayama Kozuro (Tsuyoshi Ihara) who arguably has the greatest shining moment in the film. The guy is pure badass. If you watch this film you know what I am talking about.
This is a good film and very enjoyable to say the least. On top of the great photography the accompanying music does it's job fairly well. It takes you right into the action. I think some may find the first hour boring with all the set up but the pay off is the second-half. If you are looking for a nice samurai film pick this up and wait for the moment where assassin Hirayama takes on some of the evil lord's soldiers. That alone is a great reason to watch.
Takashi Miike has always been a filmmaker for people with particular
tastes. He's best known for massive amounts of blood and insane or
grotesque moments in his films that make you double take and verbally
gasp. Films like Audition, Visitor Q, Ichi the Killer, and Gozu
illustrate this point to disturbing perfection. But there's more to the
Japanese director's repertoire than most expect or even know about. The
man has dabbled in just about every genre; The Happiness of the
Katakuris was a musical, his Black Triad trilogy brought his extreme
violence to the crime genre, he tested the waters of both westerns and
the English language in Sukiyaki Western Django, and he even jumped
head first into the superhero genre with Zebraman. Takashi Miike may be
known for disturbing and violent cinema, but that isn't entirely fair
to a filmmaker who has directed over seventy productions since 1991. It
was only a matter of time before Takashi brought his versatile sense of
filmmaking to samurai epics and 13 Assassins is an incredible place to
13 Assassins is a remake of the 1963 film The Thirteen Assassins. Without actually seeing the original film, this is more of a review of just the film as a standalone feature. What I have read about the comparisons between Takashi's Assassins and the original is pretty astounding. Hollywood remakes tend to make the mistake of remaking films frame by frame with all the same story points and conclusions. It makes the entire process feel like a waste of time. Takashi actually takes ideas from the original film and expresses them in different ways in his remake. This is done by swapping characters in the scene or different camera angles. Wildgrounds posted an article that goes into a bit more detail and it's worth a look. This alone makes 13 Assassins special. It almost completely redefines what a remake can and should be.
This samurai epic is a slow burn meaning it takes quite a while for the action to really get going. At a little over two hours long, 13 Assassins does seem to over explain things. Also there's a fairly large chance you won't be able to remember all of the thirteen assassins; at least by name. Most of the movie is spent gathering the troops and acquiring samurais for their cause. Once all of that is taken care of there's still training to go through, a run-through of their plans, and a lengthy forest sequence. But despite feeling over explanatory, it is still worthwhile and fairly intriguing along the way. That forest sequence does pay off by introducing Koyata (Yûsuke Iseya), who eventually becomes the 13th assassin. The character is an obvious nod to Kikuchiyo (played by Toshiro Mifune) in Seven Samurai. Koyata is quite possibly the most interesting character in the film due to him not actually being human and his similarities to Kikuchiyo make him awesome right from the start.
The last battle is epic in itself. Everything in the film has been building to this. Lasting nearly forty minutes, it's safe to say it pays off. People expecting Takashi's over the top violence will walk away disappointed though. There's one crazy moment in 13 Assassins that comes to mind and a few fairly gory scenes, but it's not up to the standards you're expecting. The violence is strategically placed to mean a bit more once you actually see it and not come off as completely senseless. The cinematography is absolutely breathtaking, as well. Fog plays a pivotal role and the forest, while being hell for the characters on-screen, is a joy to look at.
While I can't compare 13 Assassins to the film it's based on, it did have shades of all of the great samurai movies I have had the pleasure of seeing. It even felt like a new version of Seven Samurai at times without making the mistake of modernizing everything. 13 Assassins does come off as a bit too long for its own good and has the tendency to explain things in too much detail, it is still one of the few films out there that can be considered a true remake. 13 Assassins shows how far Takashi Miike has come as a director while focusing more on the story than the beneficial expectations some have come to anticipate from the director. Despite its flaws, 13 Assassins is one of the best films of the year.
I was actually looking for the 1963 Black & white movie this one is a remake of but got this one almost by accident.However, I'm not exactly disappointed because it's a Takashi Miike movie(not surprising he directed it if you know his works). This wasn't my first rodeo with Miike & I've watched his earlier works like 'Koroshiya Ichi"(Ichi the Killer) & "Visitor Q" &"Audition". So I expected the "Splatter Gore" he is so well known for & also his penchant for the Strange & Weird.But "13 Assassins" is him with a milder version of violence(on movie scale,that's comparable to Tarantino bloodfest ¬ overkill on fountains of blood except for one explosion scene in the movie that'll actually make you go "Soreha no Takashidesu")&no weirdness in story,probably since it's already off a well-known play & a movie.But characters in the movie have definitely been revamped to up the ante & have their own unique identifiers of 'just-off' which is super-cool! So whether it's super-samurais Shinzaemon & Hanbei(one master-less Ronin & other serving Akashi-clan tyrant Daimyo),classmates,rivals & with distinct qualities of opposing natures chosen to oppose each other, a violent Hiruyama(movie shows adviser Doi picking him for his "spirit of sword" kenki),apprentice Samurais Higoichi & Hioke who train in explosives but almost always get time of explosions wrong or mercenary spear-man Sahara,who just wants to live big..they are ALL a bit-off normal & chosen specifically to assassinate an even crazier & almost philosophically sadistic Daimyo(feudal lord) & King's adopted(read 'natural' or 'Bastard') Half-brother Naritsigu from a well-drilled Akashi army led by Hanbei. Weirdest & wildest of them all is 13th member,almost accidentally so & clearly inspired by Akira Kurosawa's 'Seven Samurai''s Kikoichi character immortalized by Toshiro Mifune, the wild-ling bandit Kiga Koyita(played by Yusuke Iseya,who's a far cry from Toshiro,but is equally comic & nearly as unkillable). Takashi Miike got a lot of fun out of him but actually made him almost magically able to heal a sword wound & run around jumping after.He's one character who is hard to swallow..but rest are well-cast & great. A driven Shinzaemon(Koji Yakusho), strategic & 'okashira'(boss & trainer of 13) Kuranaga(Matsukata), Lost to gambling&finally-found a purpose(Takayuki Yamada with probably the widest scoped character of 13),Harakiri-driven Mamiya clan Zuso(Uchino)&Yahaachi Horii(Koen Kondo) are all well cast.Honor killing,Harakiri by Seppuku & assassination is the crux of the whole movie.The sadistic character of Goro Inagaki as Naritsugu deserves all the plaudits it can get & it was superbly put to life.He rapes,murders,mutilates,philosophizes, strategizes &dismisses his servants & enemies alike with equal disdain & is one for archives! All in all,story is well known,chase & strategizing & period drama dialog straight out of a Manga & actors brilliant.Definitely the best I've seen of Takashi Miike.When he's not being strange,he is one of Japan's best directors.Worth a watch as much as 1963 Eiichi Kudo version.Ones who like action will love it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In "13 Assassins", Takashi Miike succeeds in making a samurai film for
the ages. While the first two acts of the film can be seen as slow,
they set the stage for the frenetic third act: one of the most
enjoyable and creative action scenes in modern film.
The first two acts of the film do a wonderful job of characterizing Lord Naritsugu, a man who has come into power and is not afraid to abuse it. Naritsugu is truly one of the most despicable characters of any story and his twisted nature provide the audience a reason to root for our "heroes", the 13 Assassins. The first and second acts also excel at establishing the samurai code, and its inherent conflict. Should Hanbei, Naritsugu's main body guard, stick to the samurai code and follow his Lord until the end, even through the atrocities he witnesses firsthand; or should he stick up to his Lord and protect the weak?
The third and final act of "13 Assassins" might just be the most enjoyable 50 minutes I have ever seen. The action not only feels real, but is creative, unexpected, and has a surprising amount of comedic relief. When 13 Assassins have to face an army of over 200, they need to innovate and Takashi Miike does exactly that.
While the movie does a great job of building up tension in the first two acts and releasing it in the third, it does fall flat in certain areas, most notably characterization. While the 13 Assassins all have interesting backstories and personalities, we are only hinted at those in each individual introduction, which only last about 30 seconds. In the entire film, only about four characters experience any meaningful development: Naritsugu, Hanbei, Shinzaemon (the main hero), and Shinrokuro (Shinzaemon's nephew). The amount of exposition also takes away from the film as the story is generally told through explanation by one of the characters rather than by visual cues or inference.
Although not perfect, Takashi Miike accomplishes his goal in "13 Assassins", to create a truly enjoyable action movie. The build up of tension, culminating in the third act, is nothing short of brilliant and leaves the viewer near the edge of their seat throughout.
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