Monday, November 21, 2011

13 ASSASSINS (2010) - A bloody, thrilling work of art

The year is 1844 in director Takashi Miike's samurai revenge flick 13 Assassins, and all is certainly not well in the islands of Japan. Years of peace and prosperity have left most samurai growing old, away from the battlefield and fighting boredom. There is, however, a new menace that threatens the livelihood of many Japanese. The adopted brother to the current Shogun and a powerful nobleman himself, Lord Naritsugu is the living, breathing embodiment of evil. Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki) comes and goes throughout Japan as he pleases, murdering, torturing, and raping whenever he wants, and gets away with it thanks to his brother's protection. No one dares to raise a finger against him, even as he brutally executes a mother and her children with a bow and arrow in the middle of his court. Naritsugu is untouchable, or so he thinks.

Lord Naritsugu enjoys haikus, the occasional rape, and dismembering his subjects.
Sir Doi (Mikijiro Hira) is a trusted and respected servant of the Shogun, but despite his important rank in the government, he knows he's powerless to do anything against Naritsugu's sadism. Doi's respect of tradition and his loyalty to the Shogun won't let him speak out against Naritsugu. After a fellow official commits suicide from shame after being wronged by the Lord, Sir Doi has no choice but to try and devise a scheme to get rid of that asshole once and for all.  Doi summons a trusted samurai to his court, Shinzaemon (Koji Yakusho), and tells him of Naritsugu's atrocities. He shows him a woman disfigured by Naritisugu to get his point across: she's had all of her limbs chopped off and her tongue cut off for Naritsugu's amusement, and left to die. Shinzaemon is furious and vows to help Doi get rid of Naritsugu.

Shinzaemon - if his balls were any bigger, he'd have trouble walking.
Shinzaemon returns to his village dojo and starts to plan for what is obviously a suicide mission. He recruits samurai from among his family members, old friends, and desperate men looking for a job. His band of samurai includes his nephew, his most trusted friend, and his apprentice. Despite knowing that they will have to face Naritsugu's army and that their odds of success are slim, they're all eager to die trying. Shinzaemon, being the crafty bastard that he is, comes up with a smart plan to ambush Naritsugu and use his small group to achieve surprise. Of course, back in Naritsugu's court, some of his officials hear rumors of a plot to assassinate the Shogun's brother, and they suspect that Shinzaemon is behind it, setting the stage for the inevitable bloody conclusion.

It's about to get really violent, really soon.
What is there to say about 13 Assassins that all the famous reviewers haven't already said? It is a true work of bloody art. The story itself is nothing extraordinary, but the characters are well developed, and the execution is flawless. The sets, costumes and attention to detail is fantastic, even without a massive Hollywood budget. Apart from the great performances and the fast pacing, the real highlight of the movie is the battle choreography. The swordplay is some of the most violent, fast-paced and impressive ever put on screen. The final battle is a 40-minute long orgy of destruction and adrenaline as the 13 assassins stand their ground against hundreds of soldiers, with bombs going off, people getting sliced open left and right, main characters getting killed off unceremoniously and giving the viewer hardly a moment to catch their breath. The levels of badassery from some of the guys like Shinzaemon or Hirayama (the crazy bastard pictured below) are dangerously off the charts.

The final showdown is one of the most epic battles ever put to film.
Foreign films with subtitles are a big turn-off for a lot of people, and understandably so. 13 Assassins is such a fantastic action movie though, that any true fan of movies like this just has to watch it. Despite Takashi Miike's reputation for making really gruesome, violent movies, he's remarkably restrained in this one, and keeps a great balance between exhilarating action and political drama that propels the movie quickly to the amazing climactic finish. If you enjoy action movies, 13 Assassins is a must watch. It is immensely entertaining and it's so fresh, so energetic, that it blows away any other martial arts movie of the last decade.

Best scene: The amazing final battle - 13 samurai against hundreds of soldiers. Arrows. Swords. Explosions. Bodies everywhere. Rivers of blood. It is INSANE. Has to be seen to be believed.

Best line: "I will accomplish your task... with magnificence."

TL;DR - A violent, vicious, swordplay extravaganza. Thank you Japan - 9.5/10


  1. I haven't seen 13 Assassins yet, but all the reviews I read are convincing me I need to check it out.

  2. I ordered this on blu ray, after reading this review I can hardly wait to see it.

  3. A damn good movie especially the end scenes in the village.

  4. ok, this is the 3rd awesome review for this flick I've read!

  5. Loved this movie! From start to finish was just awesomeness.