The samurai genre seems to be nearly extinct these days. There was a time, however, where samurai films were nationally popular and attracted massive audiences. This isn’t the case now. Fortunately, Takashi Miike has taken a break from his usual over the top gorefests of twisted mayhem to bring a quality samurai film that reintroduces the genre to modern audiences, 13 Assassins.
The year is 1844, and the era of the shogun is coming to a swift end. Lord Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki), the shogun’s younger brother, is threatening peacetime by murdering, raping, and stealing at random as he travels through towns. A secret meeting is held where the samurai Shinzaemon (Koji Yakusho) is tasked with assassinating Naritsugu. A team of 13 willing samurai assassins is formed and turn a town into a well fortified trap which Narisugu and his men will enter and engage these samurai in battle.
13 Assassins reminded me very much of Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece, Seven Samurai. It got to the point where I was convinced that this was an unofficial remake, but it turns out that it is a remake of a film from 1963, The Thirteen Assassins. Even though it isn’t related to the Kurosawa film, it is certainly influenced in both style and storytelling by Kurosawa. To say otherwise would be very naive.
This film may be very easily mistaken as a misleading or boring. With a name like 13 Assassins, one might begin to think that this is going to be an all out samurai action film, and with Takashi Miike at the wheel, we can sure expect buckets of the red stuff and limbs flying in all directions. If that’s what you’re looking for, I can gladly refer you to great Miike films like Ichi the Killer, Audition, and his banned ShoTime Masters of Horror episode, Imprint. 13 Assassins on the other hand is a mature drama that builds up all the tension that is released in an extended battle at the end.
I never really mention just one character in a movie. Normally I’ll try to spend time on all of the main characters. This is not one of those times. I’d like to focus on Lord Naritsugu. This guy is a total asshole that the audience wants to see fail. He attacks men, women, and children of all ages. No one is safe from his violent and malicious personality. He know he has power and can’t be touched, so he flaunts it at every turn. It is a great performance by Goro Inagaki.
Even though there isn’t much action in the first half of the movie, rest assured that the final battle more than makes up for it. Have you ever played a video game and got to the last level where you are bombarded by enemy after enemy? That’s what this final battle is like. There is a never ending flow of enemies that this small group of assassins have to defeat. It’s long, bloody, and a fulfilling showcase for Miike’s talent as a director.
Takashi Miike is a director of many genres. With 13 Assassins, I believe that he has earned some much deserved respect from film makers, critics, and larger audiences. This is mature film making that is epic in scale and down to earth. This is one of his best films that will her regarded as a classic in years to come.