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