13 Assassins Review

Published 4 years ago by , Updated March 3rd, 2014 at 7:06 am,

13 Assassins Reviews 13 Assassins Review

Screen Rant’s Kofi Outlaw Reviews 13 Assassins

Takashi Miike has become something of a international cult movie icon thanks to his vision of the strange, grotesque and terrible in movies like Audition and Ichi the Killer. However, like Sam Raimi (who is also first and foremost defined by his pulpy offbeat signatures), beyond the uniqueness of his style, Miike has always been a clearly competent, gifted, visionary filmmaker.

With 13 Assassins, his most restrained and mature work to date, Miike has evolved in his storytelling ability and simultaneously struck a balance in his style that might just make him a truly masterful director by the time his career is done.

Based on true events, the premise of the film is wonderfully simple: In Feudal Japan, an esteemed clan suffers under the reign of the cruel young Lord Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki), who commits whatever unspeakable act – rape, torture, murder – that pops into his sociopathic mind at any given moment. Unable to break their sworn oaths, the young lord’s army of samurai are forced to watch dark times fall upon the clan as Naritsugu ascends, unopposed, towards the height of Shogun. Some of the most revered samurai masters in the clan even go so far as to commit Seppuku (ritual suicide) in protest of this calamity.

Unable to stomach the horror any longer, an aging warlord reaches out to another seasoned master named Shinzaemon Shimada (Koji Yakusho) with a special mission: gather a small team of the most deadly samurai left in the clan and find a way to kill Lord Naritsugu while he is traveling between clan territories. After baring witness to the atrocities that have been committed by Naritsugu, Shimada agrees to the suicide mission and gathers a team of noble samurai (including his disenchanted young nephew, Shinrouko), to hatch an unthinkable plan: send twelve men to kill more than a hundred.

However, though his men are brave and his strategies sound, Shimada knows there is one threat standing between them and victory: Lord Naritsugu’s personal bodyguard (and Shimada’s former rival) master samurai Hanbei (Masachika Ichimura). Even with the addition of a final accomplice (a wily half-crazy bandit from the forest), the odds against the noble assassins seem insurmountable.

13 Assassins 03 13 Assassins Review

Koji Yakusho as Shinzaemon Shimada in '13 Assassins'.

The narrative structure of 13 Assassins plays to the strengths of both its director, and the attention span of the audience. The movie opens with ritual disembowelment, rape, mutilation, and the sadistic murders of men, women and children by Lord Naritsugu -  which is a perfect playground for Miike to exercise that fascination with the grotesque which has made him such an international cult icon. Once that rude introduction is out of the way, the movie settles into a more relaxed (at times grimly funny) second act, which involves the gathering of the 13 titular warriors, as well as the planning and execution of their assassination plot. The third and final act is an epic battle scene that I would claim is the best work that Miike (or just about any director) has ever filmed.

To put it in the context of raw figures: 13 Assassins clocks in at just under two hours. The epic third-act battle eats up a whopping 45 minutes of that time (!) – the gruesome intro about 20 min. That means the second act – where we do get actual plot and character development, thank goodness – is handled about as efficiently as efficient gets. Younger film buffs who want to love Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, but find themselves dozing off every time they try to watch that three-hour-plus film, your prayers for a faster-paced samurai epic have been answered.

Miike’s direction is, as stated, the most mature work he’s done to date. The cinematography is gorgeous – the lush Japanese countryside will either seem ironic or bittersweet now. Though Miike has moved far away from the pulpy B-movie look of some of his earlier films, he’s still not working on the same level as, say, The Coen Bros., who are able to seamlessly mix offbeat moments, thrilling sequences and stunning picturesque photography.  However, let it be noted: I doubt even the Coens could construct something like Miike’s epic final battle sequence in 13 Assassins.

In an age where even the practical effects of corn syrup blood spatter have been traded for CGI (Ninja Assassin, looking at you), it’s unthinkable that a director would film a fight sequence which relies almost exclusively on practical effects, choreography and (gasp!) good old fashioned acting. The fact that this same fight sequence goes on for 45 minutes is just plain mind-blowing – and that’s exactly how it feels when you watch it. 13 guys with swords versus 200 guys with swords, set in the streets of a small village: you watch the entire thing play out from the first slice to the last cut. It’s bloody spectacular, and spectacularly bloody.

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The actors won’t be all that recognizable to American audiences, but they’re a strong ensemble who all have the requisite badass look in their eye. Some characters are more memorable than others (the walking death machine and his teenage protege), some may bleed together (the four disciples of one master), but the film allots enough time for all the major characters (Shimada, Hanbei, Shinrouko, Naritsugu) to get the appropriate amounts of development, so that the end showdown is especially satisfying.

Had there been some deeper themes about the nature of the samurai code, or more sweeping and picturesque shots of the gorgeous Japanese topography, I would’ve called this film a masterpiece. As it stands, it’s just a really, really, good samurai action flick, with hands down one of the best extended action sequences you will ever watch.

13 Assassins has already been released in Japan and is now available in the U.S., exclusively in the Video On Demand “Early Screenings” section. It will be given a limited release in U.S. theaters on April 29th.

Check out the latest trailer for the film:

Our Rating:

4 out of 5

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  1. This looks really awesome.

  2. very very cool

  3. I’m a huge fan of Seven Samurai and this looks like a hyped up version of it. I’m sure it won’t compare, but it is definitely one I will be checking out. Thanks for the review. I probably wouldn’t have even known it existed otherwise.

  4. A 45 minute battle sequence seems a tad excessive but still looks good.

    If it can go anywhere near to matching the simultaneous fusion of beauty and violence visualised in House Of Flying Daggers – which had a climatic battle that was truly incredible – then 13 assassins could be worth watching.

    House of Flying Daggers without question one of the best films of the noughties.

  5. While I’m sure the visuals will be amped up, the blood flowing freely, the storyline reminds me greatly of “Seven Samurai.” But it sounds like any heart it may have will be overshadowed by grim brutality.

    I still would like to see it, though. It’s too bad theaters across the country will have multiple screens for Sucker Punch, but couldn’t allow for just a couple screenings per day of “13 Assassins.”

    • actually reminds me more of The Ronin

  6. I suppose the comparisons with Kurosawa’s masterpiece were bound to happen.

    Having seen that film, I am looking forward to this one with some retro-adolescent excitement.

    I further suppose that this is only right and is quite probably just.

    This film has not been described as a masterpiece… but to be compared to a masterpiece and remain so strong is praise enough for me.

    I will see it

    • I’m hoping it actually finds its way to more theaters than just in the usual big-market centers limited releases usually pop up in.

  7. I have to say that the author of this review sounded so excited to share this movie with us, I’m now just as excited to see it. This article was like a pep-rally to watch a movie! Honestly, I can’t WAIT to see this movie now! Great article, absolutely superb.

  8. nice review kofi, def gonna check this one out, i love a good old fashioned samurai/ninja movie (i even liked ninja assassin even though it was pretty sucky in parts).

  9. Not really a blood and guts guy, especially if it’s just there to be there, but the author makes it sound interesting so I might check it out.

  10. so i watch 13 assasins on sunday and i have to say I enjoyed it however, I would have to disagree with the review , this movie is no where near the gore in it that some of his other movies have had in it. That said the Battle was great and the sword play was amazing. Absolutely worth checking out.

  11. i can’t to see this movie, the trailer makes my hair up..

  12. Kudos on the review!! I also enjoyed 13 assassins… glad to see that ur showing some asian films on your site :)

  13. I’m a fan of Miike and I love “Seven Samurai.” So, I’m pretty amped to see this. The enthusiasm of the writing helps also. I’m practically giddy typing this response!

  14. I saw this and liked it, but in comparison to other Miike films (like Ichi The Killer) this is Bambi. Miike has dialed down the weirdness & suppressed his inclinations for shocking the audience with on camera gross outs of bodily fluids & hacked up body parts (yeah I guess there is a little of that but nothing compared to some of his other movies). It’s a straight up samurai film (remake of the exact same title), efficiently & well done.

  15. Yeah, I have to say, I wouldn’t have heard it or seen it without the review. I think this will be a good intro for people to Miike films, which are whacked to put it nicely.

    Gotta find where this is playing now:)

  16. I love the 13 assassins. Not like Miike’s other films but still a great movie. Beautiful battle at the end. A movie worthy of praises!

  17. this one is E-P-I-C ive just watched this awhile ago… it depicted the 1950′s seven samurai but some might agree that its incomparable but this one deserves a credit!!! and also the blood bath scenes are somehow gore to be emphasized as for AZUMI’s but this one is more realistic as for the leaping or flying around effect…. thumbs up for this movie!!!

  18. I can’t say enough good about this film. It’s truly spectacular!

  19. Annnnd look what just popped up on netflix watch instantly! Here we go!

    • My one and only complaint after seeing this movie is some of the set pieces they used (the traps in particular). It would take engineering masterminds to pull off springing a wall of tree trunks out of nowhere with no obvious pulley system. but no matter. this movie was FANTASTIC! Every one of the 13 oozes bad-assery throughout the whole film. Not for the queasy.

  20. That was an amazing movie. I loved it. It had a moving story and so much depth into it.

  21. this movie just blew my mind. It ranks as one of the greatest samurai movies of all time. Never will you root harder for the heroes to battle overwhelming forces to punish the evil lord,Naritsugu. You want a villain? This guy is a VILLAIN. 3 brutal scenes at the beginning clearly illustrates this and gets u rootin for the good guys. The final battle is indeed epic, 45 minutes of sword chopping action. Worth watching several times..