Lord Naritsugu, The Shogun’s brutally sadistic brother, is close to becoming a member of The Shogun’s council. Knowing this will mean an end to the nation’s existing peace, The Shogun’s advisor sees no other recourse than to enlist wronged samurai, Shinzaemon, to assassinate the savage lord. Gathering a small group of warriors, Shinzaemon must fight his way through Naritsugu’s private guard to perform his task. The Lord’s private guard number at over two hundred.
Fans of bizarre cinema will know that they don’t come much more ‘out-there’ than the Japanese director Takashi Miike. Often a purveyor of the genuinely sick and twisted, most notably in his more famed outputs such as Ichi The Killer, Audition and Gozu, Miike’s dedication to the art of filmmaking is largely overlooked. Indeed, Takashi Miike could be described as the very definition of the word ‘prolific’, directing over eighty films in a career that started in 1991. While it is true that his films vary wildly in quality, none can argue that directing as many as seven films in a year is an achievement virtually unheard of.
Not afraid to try his hand at any genre, people have come to expect an outlandish or provocative slant on whatever subject matter that is being handled, be they superhero films (Zebraman), musicals (The Happiness Of The Katakuris) or westerns (Sukiyaki Western Django).
Fans may be surprised or even disappointed then that Miike’s latest, 13 Assassins, is a samurai film with a classical approach, and perhaps his most accessible film to date.
All worries are unfounded though, as 13 Assassins is an action adventure of the highest order and a contemporary samurai flick that ranks up there with the best of them. The story and characters are far from original, but the familiarity of the whole thing invites us to ease back and enjoy Miike’s take on a well-beaten path. There ARE some signature Miike elements at play however, the villain of the piece being one of them. Lord Naritsugu is a straight-faced representation of evil incarnate, perpetrating brutal acts of such viciousness and spite that the audience are not called upon to sympathize with him in any way, shape or form. And for the true Miike purist there is a scene with a limbless, tongueless, malnourished, naked woman that will have you feeling right at home.
The film looks fantastic. Without doubt a career best, aesthetically speaking. The sets are lavish, the costumes top notch, the cinematography slick and the action set pieces are as grand as any that you are likely to see. The pace could be a problem for some, starting out very slow and encompassing much in the way of Japanese culture and politics (as is standard for period based Japanese films), it picks up though as the story progresses and the tension mounts, climaxing in a single, forty-five minute long battle sequence.
And what a glorious forty-five minutes they are, not overly graphic per se, but relentless, inventive and vastly entertaining. It’s also refreshing to see that the majority of the leads are not taken up with young/handsome types, but old boys, demonstrating that they can be just as badass as the next man, only with added gravitas.
So there you have it, 13 Assassins is nothing you probably haven’t seen a dozen times before, but you’ll have rarely seen it done as well.
C grade – for originality
A grade – for storytelling
B+ grade – for action
B grade – for acting
Overall grade – B+