Movie Reviews 96 – 13 Assassins (2010)

13 AssassinsTakashi Miike is one of my favorite directors, so when I had a chance to get a DVD of 13 Assassins, I didn’t hesitate for a second. Now, Miike is a pretty diverse director having made many controversial movies (Ichi the Killer, Audition, a gruesome segment in the Three Extremes movie, and the infamous banned episode Imprint for the  Masters of Horror TV series), but his range is so wide that it also includes a kiddie Ultraman episode and Yatterman a movie based on old Japanese kid show he himself enjoyed growing up (I should really do a writeup on that Yatterman movie some day. I just wouldn’t know where to begin).

But 13 Assassins is a very traditional Japanese epic period piece in which the ruling Shogun’s half brother, Naritsugu Matsudaira, is a ruthless lord that not only defiles his enemies but his own people. While the Shogun is reticent in putting a stop to his sibling’s terror, the relationship is also one Naritsugu exploits, knowing that nobody can do anything about it, even other ruling members of the government that want to stop him.

While Naritsugu is the focus of the story, the drama is presented between the fighters in the battle to bring him down and one warrior sworn to protect him. When a government official commits Seppuku (ritual suicide) after yet another Naritsugu transgression, some in the government decide to finally act. As they themselves cannot do anything, they enlist the help of middle aged Samurai warrior Shinzaemon. He then sets out to assemble a team of 12 other fighters, both young and old Samurai warriors and even a vagrant hunter. Knowing that Naritsugu will soon be making a long journey from a visit to Edo back to his home, they plot their coup. Not only does Naritsugu have an whole army with him, but his army is led by Shinzaemon’s old nemesis and a Samurai himself, Hanbei. The two old warriors, somewhat reluctant to confront one another are both loyal to their causes, but only one can be the victor.

The recruitment and journey of the assassins squad is both dramatic with a droll moment here and there largely dished out by the lone hunter in the group of Samurais. But the final battle is epic and a large part of the movie. But it alone is worthy of the movie.

We’ve seen many movies of this ilk before, parallels ranging from Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai to 300, with this one simply given the Miike treatment. Miike does not disappoint in the horror department either, depicting some of the atrocities meted out by the evil lord on one woman in particular. Let’s just say that once you see it, you will not forget it and it will remind you that you are indeed watching a Takashi Miike movie. Those few moments aside, this is the directors most polished movie and probably as close to mainstream as he can get.

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