|The best samurai flick in years.|
It’s impossible not to compare Takashi Miike’s samurai action picture “13 Assassins” with Akira Kurosawa’s legendary “Seven Samurai” It’s clear throughout the film that Miike pays his respects to what is arguably the best samurai film of all time. However, it is just as clear that Miike is more interested in making his own film and respectfully stepping out from under “Seven Samurai’s” shadow. He accomplishes this and despite a few flaws, “13 Assassins” is one of the best entries in the genre in years and belongs up there with best. It’s an incredibly memorable film that boasts one of the most impressive climactic action scenes in cinematic history, but what really makes it stand out is that it doesn’t forget to make us care about the characters involved in it.
The film opens with a man committing seppuku, a violent ritualistic suicide performed for many reasons, including regaining one’s honor. However, this man is committing it to protest against the ascension of the cruel and sadistic Lord Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki), half-brother of the current Shogun, to a higher place in government. Doi Toshitsura (Mikijiro Hira), a high ranking official, agrees that Naritsugu’s advancement is detrimental to the lasting peace of the current age. Unfortunately, the Shogun does not agree, orders a cover up of his brother’s horrifying crimes, and continues with his plans to promote him and give him power. This forces Doi’s hand and he decides to order Shinzaemon (Koji Yakusho), an elite samurai, to assassinate Naritsugu. His plot is suspected by Naritsugu’s chief samurai Hanbei (Masachika Ichimura), an old friend and rival of Shinzaemon, who aims to stop it.
Miike spends a lot of time setting up the motivation behind the assassination attempt. Before Shinzaemon agrees to take on the mission, Doi provides him with tales of Naritsugu’s brutality. These stories aren’t for the faint of heart and even though Miike reigns back on the gore and sadistic violence he is known for, Naritsugu’s atrocities are hard to watch. However, the violence serves a purpose as it raises the stakes and makes us understand exactly why the assassination must be carried out: allowing a man like this to gain power would threaten not only peace, but millions of innocent lives who would become caught up in Naritsugu’s twisted understanding of what it means to rule. It’s a brilliant choice that adds a lot of weight to the film, which makes the mission of the assassins seem all the more desperate.
The sense of desperation is also drawn from the fact that there are only thirteen men going up against Naritsugu’s entire royal escort. Unfortunately, Miike chooses not to properly develop all thirteen of his assassins, which lessens the impact of some deaths in the final battle. Those he chooses to add more character to among the assassins, including Shinzaemon, are all interesting characters that are easy to root for. These include Shinzaemon’s nephew, Shimada (Takayuki Yamada), his second in command Kuranaga (Hiroki Matsukata), a former pupil who is now a ronin called Hirayama (Tsuyoshi Ihara), and the ronin’s own pupil, Ogura (Masataka Kubota). There is also a great hunter character that plays homage to Toshiro Mifune’s character in “Seven Samurai” named Kiga (Yusuke Iseya). Kiga seems to be inhuman, and maybe even a forest spirit, but the film never really makes this clear. The rest of the characters are given some development, but they never seem as interesting as all of the heroes did in “Seven Samurai.”
Still, even with the development of some characters lacking, that Miike takes time to make us care about most of them, combined with our knowledge of Naritsugu’s evil and Hanbei’s strained devotion to his lord and respect for Shinzaemon, brings a helluva emotional punch to the final battle at the end of the film. It actually feels like something is at stake when the swords are drawn and blood is spilled, something that can’t be said for most Hollywood action films these days. One other thing that sets it apart is the clarity in which Miike shoots them. Never once did I feel confused or disoriented by the action, Miike keenly made sure the audience is always aware of what is going on, who is getting killed or doing the killing, and it is just such a refreshing departure from the garbled mess most modern action directors like to foist upon us. Even at forty minutes long the final battle maintains its velocity and impact because of this clarity and also because Miike actually took the time to build up to it in such a damn satisfying way. Hollywood should be taking notes on this film.
Though on top of all this, what really makes the film so great and standout from its peers is the way Miike weaves the samurai code of honor into it. Even though the thick plot could be boiled down to a bunch of good guys killing an evil guy, much like Stallone’s “The Expendables”, the inclusion of this subtext brings an unexpected layer of thoughtfulness to the story. Hanbei believes it is his duty to go to any length to protect his lord, that this is his oath, no matter how repulsive he finds the actions of that lord. Shinzaemon believes that he is honor bound to protect the people, who are in essence the true foundation of the shogunate. Their battle is a spiritual one, a debate on the true meaning of honor and loyalty to one’s code, beliefs they are both willing to die for. The theme of an honorable death and what that means is an important one in this story, which makes the build up to their inevitable clash one of the great highlights of the film.
“13 Assassins” may not take the throne or even enter the argument of what is the best samurai film of all time, but it doesn’t need to. It is a fantastic film that overcomes its flaws through its willingness to mean something and not just be about cool fights and gory deaths. When a samurai dies, Miike makes the audience feel the impact of their death, both in the way the blows feel brutal and the fact that there is so much weight beneath the bloodshed. This is a very meaningful film, one that is completely entertaining but doesn’t shy away from being worthy of being discussed and thought about. One can only hope that in the future, much like Kurosawa inspired so many filmmakers with his work, budding filmmakers will take heed of “13 Assassins” and we will have action films worth paying attention to once again.
13 Assassins Trailer 2
This Takeshi Miike-directed samurai action film hits North American theaters later this month. Is it just me, or is this decidedly lacking in Miike-brand grossness?
Thirteen Assassins Trailer
Japanese gross-out director Takashi Miike takes the helm on this historical epic about a group of assassins hired to eliminate a corrupt feudal lord against all odds.
|review||The best samurai flick in years. (5 out of 5)||TreyoftheDead|
|review||Review: 13 Assassins (4 out of 5)||TheFantasticFillip|
|review||An awesome samurai movie (5 out of 5)||MrWright|
|review||More Than Just An Amazing Ending Action Scene. (4 out of 5)||Jason_Miami|
|review||A film of two halves, both of them grey. (3 out of 5)||limasol|
|review||13 Assassins (3 out of 5)||OhHiMovie|
|news||2011 Independent Film Festival of Boston: Capsule Reviews||Pope|
|review||A Modern Samurai Film That Lacks the Spirit of the Classics (3 out of 5)||WesleyFenlon|