In 1844, in the final era of the Shogun, the cruel young Lord Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki) terrorises and brutalises his people, enjoying immunity from the law. He hopes to join the Council of his half brother and with the powers that come with his status, aims to turn his territory into his suffering playing. A secret plan is hatched by insiders to hire a group of samurai to assassinate him. The leader is chosen first, Shinzaemon (Koji Yakusho), who gathers 11 other samurai through his nephew Shinrokuro (Takayuki Yamada) and a network of connections. They are also joined by a forest dwelling young warrior, Koyata (Yusuke Iseya). The 13 men make plans to ambush Naritsugu and his men during a long journey to a clan across the land.
Review by Andrew L. Urban
It begins with a wide shot of a man about to commit hara kiri and ends with a long, bloody battle in which heads roll and swords flash, blood flows and arrows thud into flesh. Takashi Miike doesn't muck around with meaty material like this, a colour remake of Eichi Kudo's 1963 black-and-white movie of the same name.
The film teases out themes of the samurai code in the dying days of the Shogunite system, with a hint of nostalgic regret for it. Loyal to the death, samurai were mercenaries with honour and played an important role in Japan's history. This film gives the remaining handful of loners a noble cause for which to fight and die.
Goro Inagaki as Naritsugu is a worthy baddie, a prettily handsome young man whose cruelty is all the more heinous for his detached manner. Koji Yakusho is the real star, though, a veteran of the film industry with tremendous screen presence. He is ideally cast as the leader of the 13 assassins, and is solidly supported by a cast including the likeable Takayuki Yamada and the cheeky Yusuke Iseya.
The latter pines for Upashi, one of his boss' wives and apart from a couple of very badly treated young women, daughters and wives serving food and drink are the only other female presence in a film that caters to the aficionados of the samurai movie genre.
Despite some helpful subtitling, I found the first half an hour a trifle confusing as characters scheme and plot their way through the scenes. Once established, though, the story is clear enough, and Miike works hard to build up of tension throughout and especially as he nears the climactic confrontation.
The best of these involve the setting of a village as the trap for Naritsugu's small army and there are some unpleasant (for him) surprises. I might wish for a less drawn out ending, and perhaps the battle is also overlong and a little indulgent. But that's Miike for you.
There are many deft touches, a sprinkling of humour and a great deal of grunting and shouting as men clash in hand to hand combat. But the supporting premise that this is a good fight to rid the world of an evil man gives the action moral traction.
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13 ASSASSINS (MA15+)
Jûsan-nin no shikaku
CAST: Koji Yakusho, Takayuki Yamada, Yusuke Iseya, Goro Inagaki, Masachika Ichimura, Mikijiro Hira, Hiruko Matsukata, Ikki Sawamura, Arata Furuta, Tsuyashi Ihara, Masataka Kubota
PRODUCER: Minami Ichikawa, Toichiro Shiraishi, Michihiko Yanagisawa
DIRECTOR: Takashi Miike
SCRIPT: Daisuke Tengan (based on screenplay by Kaneo Ikegami)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Nobuyasa Kita
EDITOR: Kenji Yamashita
MUSIC: Koji Endo
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Yuji Havashida
RUNNING TIME: 126 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 8, 2011