Posted by: greercn | May 11, 2011

13 Assassins

It begins with a graphic and violent suicide – seppuku – and builds through unpleasant acts to an epic 50-minute battle sequence that reminds me of John Woo’s “Red Cliff ” scene, set at ground level. “13 Assassins” is an excellent and entertaining Japanese-language film, with subtitles, full of moral musings on death, duty, honour and gratitude yet only losing its quick pace briefly, in the middle of its 126-minute running time.

It’s not for the squeamish. After the conventions of “Crouching Tiger” with its multi-level action, it’s refreshing to see such traditional fighting, but much of what takes you there is hard to watch. Stylish, but truly nasty.

Takashi Miike has made loads of movies, none of which I have seen. I am told they are mostly splatter/horror gems, which I tend to skip, as a genre.

Here, there is lots of homage to things I love. You think of Akiro Kurosawa’s characters and scripts. Echoes of “The Seven Samurai” and, indeed, curious conventions of Westerns like “The Magnificent Seven” get lots of screen time. Clint Eastwood could breeze through but, sadly, doesn’t.

Still, the characters are all excellent and easy to tell apart, despite a massive cast. The bad guy is really very bad and cuts limbs off women. Well, at least one woman anyway. I am told Miike did something similar in “Audition”. It’s icky, but integral to the plot.

Set in 1844, among the samurai, the village, forest and hill scenes all give a sense of beauty and distance.

There are many great performances here – evil and good have blurred lines between them – but the standout is the non-Samurai assassin, Yusuke Isaya as Koyata. There are elements of imp and devil in his distinctive role, which operates as a kind of chorus to the action.

If you can stomach graphic but stylish violence and if you like Japanese films, do go see this. The Stratford Picturehouse audience seemed a little puzzled by all but the big battle scene, for which they stayed quiet.

The women are beyond stereotypes into geisha mode, but that’s 1844 Japan for you.  There is a profound anti-war message here, but it has no feminist counterpart.

My friends have been divided on it with two-thirds loving it and a third feeling the violence was too much. This and “Source Code” are the two movies of 2011 (so far) that I will be buying on DVD, when they are available. It grabbed me from the beginning and never let me go.

Miike is going to be a big deal Hollywood director, very soon. I hope they give him a Western. Perhaps we are overdue a remake of “The Alamo”?



  1. I’m keeping this comment short. I loved it.

  2. I like your review, and agree entirely. It’s a great film. This review I wrote recently provides some background on Miike an the original film.

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