Last week I was on vacation at a beautiful cottage with a bunch of friends. I got to get away from most forms of technology for nearly a week and just relax lake-side with a few comics. There was one night, though, where we all gathered together to watch 13 Assassins. I had been wanting to see this period piece for ages, and tried to get my hands on it several times last year for my previous blog. I finally had my chance and I’m making a point to write about it now that I have internet access once again.
The basic plot of the film is that the Shogun (leader of all Japan) has allowed his step brother to join him in ruling the country. This man, Lord Naritsugu, is basically a complete psychopath who takes pleasure in torturing and killing innocent people and getting away with it due to his close relation to the Shogun. The father of one of Naritsugu’s victims comes to the samurai Shinzaemon for help. Of course, by “help” he means “kill that murderous madman for the good of Japan”. After being shown an unfortunate survivor of another of Naritsugu’s attacks, Shinzaemon agrees to put together a group to get the job done. It becomes very clear that if this man gets to the capitol and into a place of real power, the future of Japan’s people would be at risk.
I believe most who watch many subtitled films will recognize the name of the 13 Assassins director: Takashi Miike. He has primarily done horror and shock films in the past, but while this movie is quite violent and has plenty of blood, it doesn’t nearly approach the levels of grossness of his other films. 13 Assassins is pretty much just an action movie set in ancient Japan. The story seemed to be heavily inspired by another great samurai film, Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa. I wouldn’t say it’s a copy, so much as an homage. The first clue is already in the structure of the title. Both are about a contract job being taken on by samurai, both take some time in gathering and recruiting the team, and both even have a strange “wild man” unexpectedly join the group (or expected if you’d seen Seven Samurai). I don’t think this is a bad thing at all, and I think it worked very well for 13 Assassins to have such strong roots, yet twist it just enough by making our group become assassins, which has its own negative connotations.
13 Assassins, Ready for Battle
Anyone watching this should be going into it for the action. While there are a few short action scenes in the first half of the film during the recruitment stages, action fanatics will be pleased to hear that nearly the ENTIRE second half of the movie is one gigantic sword-slashing, blood-spraying, head-loping fight to the death. The choreography is fantastic, the action is frenetic, and generally the movie is just great fun. The only problem I had was that many of the assassin’s aren’t given deep characters, or really ever introduced much at all, and so I had a hard time keep up with who was who during the bloody final battle, with a few key exceptions.
While 13 Assassins has a pretty basic plot, it has all it needs to set up some really great action, and a villain who truly feels villainous. You’re really cheering on for the team of samurai-turned-assassins to come out on top and successfully complete their mission. If you haven’t seen this film, and you like either action movies, Japanese culture, or just general badassery, 13 Assassins is a MUST WATCH.