Film Review – 13 Assassins (2010)

13 Assassins

13 Assassins (2010)

Directed by Takashi Miike

Starring Kôji Yakusho, Takayuki Yamada

Review by Jordan

The year is 1844, and the cruel and barbaric Lord Naritsugu Matsudaira is on his way back to the Akash land to join his half-brother and sit on the Shogun Council. Samurai Shinzaemon Shimada is called by  Sir Doi of the Akash Clan to lead eleven other men and ambush and assassinate Naritsugu en-route. It appears a suicide mission, especially when the expected 75 guards grows to 200, but a samurai who sacrifices his life for his master is one that achieves their true purpose in life, and these 13 men (one a hunter they encounter whilst lost) will give their all to protect a land at peace.

13 Assassins is an accomplished, enthralling and realistically violent historical endeavour from a cult director continuing to reach grand heights in the genres he undertakes; Audition (1999) is a disturbing horror classic, Ichi the Killer (2001) a demented masterpiece and Sukiyaki Western Django (2007) an outrageously entertaining Eastern take on the Western. Unlike these other titles (as well as many others under Miike’s belt) the brutality in 13 Assassins feels completely warranted in replicating the bygone era where high-scale bloodshed was almost normality in a land tussling for power, especially in the film’s opening act where we are shown proof that the evil nature of Naritsugu has no bounds; women and children are tortured, families butchered and entire Clans massacred as he stamps his dominant authority over the region.

At times the cruelty may seem unforgivable, but it is of high importance to understand exactly why this monster is to be assassinated

The final showdown in the ‘village of death’ is an impressive a last stand as you’re ever likely to witness, with enough breath-taking action to fill a dozen martial arts films, only with added authenticity and desperation. Although none of the characters are perfectly rounded (an impossible task) we still care more than enough that no harm befalls them, particularly Shinzaemon and his nephew Shinrokuro, and watch in fevered fixation as they battle to complete their duty with no care for their own earthly existence. Needless to say this was the quickest 141 minutes I’ve spent watching a movie for some time.

Shamefully my knowledge of Asian cinema is very weak, having not tasted much outside of Miike, Akira Kurosawa (Seven Samurai, Yojimbo) and John Woo (Hard-Boiled, Red Cliff). The depth of quality in 13 Assassins has encouraged me to commence rectifying this issue, and for that, I am extremely thankful.

5 ‘exciting days’ out of 5 

11 responses to “Film Review – 13 Assassins (2010)

  1. 13 Assassins is one of my top favourite (Non Japanese Godzilla) films of all time. The film introduced me to now my second favourite actor (Behind the great Toshiro Mifune) Koji Yakusho. My biggest regret with the film is not seeing it any time sooner, but within a year I have seen 13 Assassins more times than any other film (About 10).

    I really do recommend you see more Japanese films. Some Godzilla films yes (28 to watch) but also the films by Akira Kurosawa. A good one to start with is Seven Samurai (which is a lot like 13 Assassins), and then as you develop, give films like The Hidden Fortress and Ran a go, and maybe if you have the stomach for it perhaps Battle Royale (Non Akira Kurosawa film).

    If you want to know more, please check out my reviews of some of the above films, I have yet to do The Hidden Fortress and 13 Assassins……….Sadly.

  2. Just read your Seven Samurai review (a Kurosawa I have seen), it’s obvious just how much of a passion you have for this brand of cinema! I’m definitely going to start collecting his titles and perhaps dip my toe in the wide world of Godzilla.
    Thanks for the comment!

  3. Great review. Couldn’t agree more about 13 Assassins. Given how knowledgeable you guys are about film, I am surprised to hear you haven’t dived deep into Asian — and more specifically, Japanese and Hong Kong — cinema. I fully agree with “numb3r5s” that you should see “Battle Royale.” Given your love of gore and splatter, you’ll love it. Would also encourage you to check out gangster/yakuza movies by Johnnie To (e.g., “Exiled,” “Election,” “Triad: Election”, “Fulltime Killer”); Andrew Lau (e.g., “Infernal Affairs” which Scorsese remade as “The Departed”); and, of course, Zhang Yimou (“House of Flying Daggers”; “Hero”). Finally, for pure on splatter with a dash of camp, check out “Machine Girl” from Noburu Iguchi. You’ll see where Robert Rodriguez got the inspiration for Cherry Darling 🙂

    • Well, looks like I’m starting with Battle Royale! Having worked at a movie shop in the past I always wanted to pick up Election etc but never did. I should point out that of course I’ve tackled J and Korean horror, like the Ringu series, Mirrors, The Eye and Pulse, though surprisingly never really took on J-splatter! Not yet anyway…
      Oh, and glad you agree with the review!

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