Movie Review: 13 Assassins
I just finished watching this awesome movie. I was lusting for a good samurai movie and this one just pushed the right buttons for me. I was searching for the top 100 Japanese movies of all time and this was in. I didn’t read any synopses nor did I watch any trailers. I simply had to take my chances with this film and I found it worthy spending two hours of my life.
The film is about a plot to kill an absurdly evil (amoral?) man who happens to be the brother of the current shogun. How evil is he? Let me borrow the description of this blogger right here just because I found it to be the proper way of describing this evil monster.
And the villains in Miike’s World? All ineffably twisted megalomaniacs stripped of every shred of human decency. If you’re wondering just howbad a villain ought to be in a Miike Takashi jidaigeki, suffice it to say that simple rape and pillage simply won’t cut it anymore – just ask Lord Naritsugu (Inagaki Goro FTW!!), the debauched dilettante-lord (and half-brother to the shogun, ohNOES!) whose uncontrollable bloodlust and sadistic (read: freakyshiyeeet) fetishes spark off the chain of events depicted in the film.
In fact, Lord Naritsugu is SOOOO EEEVOL, that when he’s on the road and stops the night at a local daimyo’s estate, his idea of “room service” is to exercise his droit de seigneur on the first pretty young thing he sees in the hallway; when the poor girl’s horrified husband rushes in, Naritsugu, blade in hand, skewers the young man and then calmly hacks his head off. And that’s not all!!! Lord Naritsugu is SOOOO EEEVOL, he plays soccer with people’s severed heads, not caring a whit if these heads once belonged to nameless prisoners or his long-serving deputies, tsk tsk.
And that’s not all!!! He’s SOOOO EEEVOL, that when a dissenting lord commits seppuku to protest Naritsugu’s, well, EEEVOLness, the maniac has the dead lord’s surviving family members – including a four-year-old boy! – rounded up, hogtied, and used for his archery target practice.And that’s not all!!! Lord Naritsugu is SOOOO EEEVOL, that he orders the “total massacre” of a rebel leader’s family – but he spares the daughter just so he can have her limbs and tongue cut off, to keep on for his sick amusement.
Now the samurai, as with Seven Samurai, are a chosen few. First there were twelve but it wouldn’t make any sense because the film title suggests thirteen and so a bit later in the film, we get to see the last member which, at the end of the movie, puts a question mark on the audience’s faces. They can all wield the sword but the producers made use of their numbers and made the characters a bit more creative. It would be pretty boring and too straightforward if all they did was hack-n-slash right? A few were made to be bomb-masters, some were left to delegate special missions while waiting for the right time, and the others were to prepare a little labyrinth of doom for the big fight. And the labyrinth just happens to be a village which was converted to be as such.
From another blogger, this is his take on the samurai cast.
This is a men on a mission film like Seven Samurai, The Dirty Dozen or Inglourious Basterds. If they had called the film The Dirty Dozen Plus One it’d be fitting. If you’ve delved into the world of samurai films then you’ll know these character types right off the bat. They range from the old samurai who’s obsessed with honor, the good natured samurai who’s never really fought in battle, the youth who is all too eager to die in battle, and the ronin who has no master other than money. They’re a good group of characters and it’s easy to stand behind them as they’re all the under dog. They’re going up against a force seven times larger than they are and all in the name of saving Nippon from a potential ruler they can’t abide by.
The film is about two hours long and the fight scenes don’t happen until the last hour or so. The story build up beforehand was a bit fast but it was direct to the point. Also, there is no background as to why the evil guy was evil in the first place. If I were to say it, I’d say he just doesn’t know what it’s like to experience pain or maybe he wants to experience things he only heard during school. Even the samurais barely had anything before they took the sword. It wasn’t really needed and I’m sure it would push the 3-hour mark on the film but nonetheless, it would have been nice to have a background so we can get to know the characters a bit more.
I’m gonna say it: the good guys are not immortal, gods, and specially not at the same level as Hitokiri Battousai. They’re all human and are subject to pain, fatigue, and death. So it goes without saying that a good samurai film won’t be without a significant number of “good-guy deaths”. I’m not saying they all died but a significant number did. But the way the fight scene culminated, which still gives me goosebumps thinking about it as I write this, made it so that they didn’t die without fighting for what they know is right, that they all died with honor and their sacrifice was for a worthy cause. So you see, even with little to no background at all, you can feel sorry for them as if you did know them more because of the way they held their swords against an insurmountable foe.
I say insurmountable because they’re like 13 and they’re all fighting 200 samurais, elite at that. The film then makes me wonder just how much inspiration did good ‘ol Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai give the producers of this film? I watched Seven Samurai some six years ago and I still remember the memorable scenes. Which leaves me to compare the two films. I mean, both had the final scene in a small village, both were outnumbered, and both had the most select, topnotch, and bad ass samurais at their disposal. I can even compare this film’s final scene with the movie 300 with the way strategy was really used to eliminate a good number of the enemies before they all unsheathed. Alas, apples and oranges. Each film had their own good and bad so I can’t go all out and say this was better than that.
The fight scenes here, specially the last one with emphasis on the word specially, really offer the reason why I watch samurai films. I mean, sure the samurai films are usually filled with drama and they’re often good that way but for people like me who just love watching a good guy beating up a whole bunch of bad guys as if they’re all small fry, it’s really all about the fight scenes. Not to mention the fact that I really fancied the part where the bad guys entered a street with swords for trees i.e. swords planted to the ground. I watched a similar film before and it had the same scene which made me cringe with joy because I knew what was gonna happen: It’s Dual-wield time! The part where my favorite samurai, Hirayama, just went full offense with two swords at each and every foe was like a shot of heroin! He reminded me of dear old Kyuzo of Samurai Seven (and of course, Seven Samurai) He’d run and slash one and if he feels someone’s gonna get him behind, he reaches for a nearby sword, turns around, and slashes the motherfucker down! In fact, I’m gonna watch that scene again!
For the ending, the film teaches us that when it comes to protecting something, a person, a way of life, an idea, it’s all fair. The final enemy forgot to mind his surroundings in the end which cost him his life. And the way the big bad boss lost was very worth it.
Bonus: During the aftermath, a survivor finds a comrade all well and uninjured. It’s a bit confusing and I’m sure you’d all ask a question “why the hell is that guy alive?!”. Well I’ve read that the person who isn’t supposed to be alive is a demon (Youkai) but it wasn’t really revealed nor explored in the film. Hinted, maybe, but it’s so subtle. One more interesting explanation is that he’s just a product of a survivor’s imagination, due to the stress and fatigue of the battle, he ends up wanting to see a companion amidst the stench of death and the aftermath of battle. But most people agree with the youkai thing.
The verdict? I’ll give this film 8.5/10.
I would’ve given it a 10 if not for the lack of character development (but you can’t blame them since there are many main characters). Also because I think the film deserves more fight scenes. It wouldn’t hurt to have had a few more minor skirmishes.
I got the pictures from the following sites: