13 Assassins (2010)






THE SCOOP

Director:  Takashi Miike
Cast:  Kôji YakushoTakayuki YamadaYûsuke Iseya
Plot:  A group of assassins come together for a suicide mission to kill an evil lord.

Genre:  Action / Adventure / Drama
Awards:  Nom. for Golden Lion (Venice).
Runtime:  141min
Rating:  NC16 for sequences of bloody violence, some disturbing images and brief nudity.

IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
13 Assassins, a Golden Lion nominee at Venice, is a sumptuously photographed film that is excellently set-up by the filmmakers, features an action-packed second half whose intensity rivals that of the climatic hospital sequence in John Woo’s shoot-‘em-up masterpiece Hard Boiled (1992), and ends on a slightly ambiguous note that unfortunately feels a tad too surreal for a film that is anything but. 

Directed by Takashi Miike, the infamous director of insanely violent films such as Dead or Alive (1999), Audition (2000), and Ichi the Killer (2001), 13 Assassins is surprisingly tame in comparison, though I must say the decision not to make this a gore fest is spot on.

The premise is as simple as it can be: Lord Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki) is the evil younger brother of the current Shogun who enjoys torturing and killing women and children to satisfy his weird desire for violence and lust.  A group of samurais, led by Shinzaemon (Koji Yakusho), is hired to assassinate him before he ascends politically to the top and declares war on peaceful clans.  The mission is extremely tough because Lord Naritsugu is protected by hundreds of men and a master samurai called Hanbei (Masachika Ichimura), who trained with Shinzaemon when they were apprentices, adding a layer of intrigue.

The villainous nature of Lord Naritsugu is depicted very well.  Early scenes show his cruelty, in particular a vile scene that sees him shoot arrows at a family that is tied up, including a small boy.  There is also a very disturbing scene featuring a nude woman with all her limbs severed, with a character explaining how she is used as a sexual plaything.  The soulless eyes of actor Inagaki and his lack of emotion towards human suffering are very effective in building a strong sense of hatred for his character.

In comparison, there is no one strong protagonist, though Shinzaemon comes close.  Like Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954), the samurais in Miike’s film are collectively portrayed as both battle-hardened tacticians with skills to outwit any foe and overly enthusiastic warriors who know the meaning of sacrifice.  

But unlike Kurosawa’s masterpiece, each samurai’s personality in 13 Assassins, with the exception of Shinzaemon, is developed only minimally and enough for the function of plot.  Very predictably, there is the requisite sword duel in the climax, which gives us a relatively quiet moment of calm in what is a loud and chaotic second hour that while relentlessly entertaining, may be a trifle too overwhelming for some.

In a nutshell, 13 Assassins is guilty pleasure for seekers of violent action who are patient enough to wait for its execution.  This Miike film is well-directed and should provide an interesting alternative to the loud fanfare of Hollywood summer blockbusters.

GRADE: B+ (8/10 or 3.5 stars)






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