'13 Assassins' Fights For A Top Spot Amongst The Greatest Samurai Films
You don't need subtitles to get the gist of the story from the trailer above, but here's a quick rundown: Lord Naritsugu (in a wonderful performance by Goro Inagaki) is the sociopathic brother to a current Japanese Lord. It isn't long before Lord Naritsugu's revolting actions begin to catch up with him though. Hope comes in the form of the noble samurai Shinzaemon Shimada (Koji Yakusho in another of the film's impressive performances) who is secretly hired to assassinate the sadistic Lord.
So, as any honorable leader of men is wont to do in this situation, he begins amassing a small group (12 to be exact) of equally honorable warriors. Without wanting to give too much of the plot away, the story moves on from here to become a welcomed mash-up of film classics like The Dirty Dozen, Seven Samurai, and The Wild Bunch with the usual Miike twists thrown in.
As with each of these films in which a large group of men with nothing to lose must face suicidal odds, you will come to know each of them. You'll cheer for their victories, root for them when they're down, and be saddened when one is slain. Although I must admit, there are a few of the assassins who I wish I had gotten to know better. In a movie with such a large cast, however, it's to be expected that not every character will get the attention they deserve. One of the most impressive feats that this film pulls of has to do with Miike's adept handling and switching of tone.
The film plays a constant balancing act between the comic and the tragic. Not an easy thing to do without coming off as too much of one and not enough of the other. But in Miike's skilled hands, the balance works. Comic moments punctuate tragic ones, offering some respite from the bleak events surrounding these warriors.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Miike film without something a little oddly creepy thrown in there, and you'll find these moments too. The tonal shifts aren't always perfect though. My only real problem arose during the final minutes of the film. Not wanting to spoil anything, I'll just say that the appearance of one of the characters at the end left me very puzzled.
Another thing worth noting is the surprising lack of 'in-your-face' violence. That's not to say this film isn't violent. On the contrary, it's one of the most violent films in recent memory. But there are many points throughout the film where Miike seems to be intentionally holding back, allowing the violence to happen just outside the eye of the camera. This may come to a bit of a surprise to fans of Miike's more gore-centric films like Audtion or Ichi The Killer. But Miike loyalists should have absolutely no reason to be disappointed with this film, especially after experiencing the samurai sword filled showdown that serves as the story's epic finale.
Even if you aren't a huge Takashi Miike fan (personally, he had me at Ichi the Killer), if you're at all interested in samurai, martial arts movies, ancient feudal Japan, or just plain entertaining storytelling, you owe it to yourself to throw on a black hakama and give this one a look.
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