Movie Review: 13 Assassins
Release Date: April 29, 2011
Distributor: Magnet Releasing
· Takashi Miike
· Kôji Yakusho
· Gorô Inagaki
· Tsuyoshi Ihara
· Yusuke Iseya
· Takayuki Yameda
· Masachika Ichimura
· 13 Assassins Official Web Site
· IMDB: 13 Assassins
by Darren Goodhart
Published: May 30, 2011
At the end of Japan's feudal era, peace reigns across the land, though that is starting to be abused by the Shogun's brother, Lord Naritsugu. Naritsugu abuses the people for his own sport and is on the fast track to ascension within the hierarchy. Sir Doi, the Minister of Law, wants to stop him but can't do so overtly due to political conflict. Doi seeks to do so through covert means, contacting a legendary samurai, Shinzaemon, to handle the situation. Shinzaemon puts together a group of eleven other samurai who, with their guide, the feisty Koyata, seek to overcome impossible odds and assassinate Naritsugu while he's under the protection of 200 men.
"13 Assassins" is the latest movie from Japanese film director Takashi Miike. Miike, has directed all sorts of different genres of film and at a prolific rate, often directing as many as four or five films a year. In the United States, Miike is best known for his twisted cult movies, first (at least in my mind) rising to fame with his brutal horror story of a relationship gone awry, "Audition" (2000). "Audition" was my own personal gateway to Miike's movies and after that I actively sought out other films like "Dead or Alive," "Fudoh," "Gozu" and of course, "Ichi the Killer." More recently, he's been part of Showtime's Masters of Horror series with the intense episode "Imprint" and directed the western "Sukiyaki Western Django," which I still have yet to see. These movies are not for the faint of heart, so if you're new to the world of Takashi Miike, consider yourself warned...
"13 Assassins" is a much more conventional film than those listed above, but that doesn't mean that it's any less special. Last year, we saw a spate of "men on a mission" movies with films like "The Losers," "The A-Team" and "The Expendables" and there's certainly varying degrees of fun to be had with all three of these, but there's still a bit of a quality of winking at the audience with all three of them. "13 Assassins" is the real deal when it comes to this sort of film, having more in common with movies like "The Dirty Dozen" and "The Magnificent Seven." I'd take this a step further and add that after seeing this it was like Miike made his version of Sam Peckinpah's immortal classic, "The Wild Bunch."
It's a straightforward story of good versus evil. Evil with Lord Naritsugu gets set up quickly and brutally, and right from the start we want to see this guy meet an extremely violent end. Shinzaemon and his group of men all get their chance in the spotlight and as much as we hate Naritsugu, we grow to like and care for this group of samurai.
The first half of the movie is all set-up, not just with the characters but with the intricate set-up that Shinzaemon comes up to take out Naritsugu. The second half of the movie is a glorious pay-off with an epic battle between these 13 men and the 200 who protect Naritsugu. This is spectacularly played out with no special effects tricks to highlight the action. It's just pure and logical action and it's glorious to watch.
I honestly can't say that I'm familiar with any of the cast, though I'd expect that in Japan, they're probably all pretty big deals. Regardless, their performances are absolutely fantastic. Kôji Yakusho plays Shinzaemon and just by force of his character, you're ready to follow him into glorious battle. Amongst his men, standouts include Tsuyoshi Ihara as the heroic Hirayama, Yusuke Iseya as their guide Koyata and Takayuki Yameda as Shinzaemon's nephew Shinrouko. Ihara's Hirayama commands the screen when we see him in action and you could almost imagine an entire movie made around this guy alone. Iseya's Koyata puts the whole thing in perspective for a common man and at the same time offers up some of the film's comic relief. Yamada's Shinrouko goes through the most personal growth, starting this adventure preoccupied with losing himself in gambling and women and uniquely transformed by the film's end.
On the other side, Gorô Inagaki plays Lord Naritsugu with an aristocratic snideness that makes him a perfect villain. Naritsugu is protected by Hanbei who leads the 200 men. Hanbei, played by Masachika Ichimura, is Shinzaemon's opposite number, but just as crafty and cunning in his own right. A final battle between Shinzaemon and Hanbei is foreshadowed early in the film and when it comes it's fantastic and very, very satisfying.
"13 Assassins" is a masterpiece. It really doesn't get any better than this. Takashi Miike's maturity as a filmmaker is in full evidence here. It is an extremely violent movie, though, so it's not for everybody. I have to confess, this is the first time that I've ever experienced one of Miike's movies on the big screen and I was literally blown away by the experience. It makes me wish that I could've experienced some of his other movies like "Audition" or "Ichi The Killer" on the big screen. Oh, I was certainly impressed by them watching them at home, but I imagine the experience would've been amplified considerably with the theatrical experience. Magnet Releasing is currently offering this through OnDemand viewing, so if you want to pursue this, the opportunity is surely there (and most of Magnet's movies also eventually find their way to Netflix Instant Play, so if you have that, "13 Assassins" should eventually be available). But honestly, if you have the chance to see this on the big screen... do it. Easily, "13 Assassins" is one of the very best movies I've seen so far this year and obviously this is highly, highly recommended.