13 Assassins

Distributed By: Magnet

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


                I have always been interested in the ways of the samurai.  As a child I would read historical fiction about samurai.  As an adult, I have watched many a movie and read many a book about the legends of samurai and can't seem to pass up an opportunity to watch yet another samurai based film.  That's why I found myself renting 13 Assassins, a Japanese film with English subtitles, on movie night.

                In 1840, Lord Matsudaira Naritsugu of Akashi (Goro Inagaki), half brother of the Shogun, has just risen to a position of power that will make him the next leader of the shogunate.  Unfortunately, Naritsugu is a vengeful and sadistic man who finds enjoyment in exacting the pain of others.  After a well-respected individual in the Akashi clan commits seppuku to protest the rise of Naritsugu, The Shogunate's Justice Minister (Mikijiro Hira) approaches Shinzaemon Shimada (Kji Yakusho), an older samurai who served under the former shogun.

                As the Justice Minister reveals more and more of Naritsugu's atrocities to Shinzaemon, the older samurai becomes more and more convinced that it would be wrong to allow him to rise to the position of shogun.  The Justice Minister makes it clear that he can act in no other way than to set Shinzaemon on the correct path.  Shinzaemon accepts his "assignment" with a heavy heart and a righteous attitude.  He quickly sets off to amass a small army of men meant to take on and take down Naritsugu and his followers.

                Joining Shinzaemon on his mission are Shinrokurō Shimada (Takayuki Yamada), Shinzaemon's nephew who has strayed form his Bushido roots to become a gambling womanizer; Kuranaga Saheita (Hiroki Matsukata), another veteran samurai who believes in Shinzaemon's quest; Hirayama Kujūrō (Tsuyoshi Ihara), a ronin who trained under Shinzaemon; Ogura Shōujirō (Masataka Kubota), a samurai disciple training under Hirayama; Hioki Yasokichi (Sōsuke Takaoka), a warrior from Kuranaga's dojo; Ōtake Mosuke (Seiji Rokkaku); Horii Yahachi (Kōen Kondō), a samurai trained in the use of explosives; Mitsuhashi Gunjirō (Ikki Sawamura); Sahara Heizō (Arata Furuta), an elder ronin who specializes in the yari rather than the katana and Ishizuka Rihei (Kazuki Namioka).  When the group becomes lost in an effort to head off Naritsugu's army, they are guided by a mysterious and impish hunter/tracker named Kiga Koyata (Yūsuke Iseya), increasing their small assassin army to thirteen.

                Shinzaemon's assassins decide that they must make their stand in Ochiai, buying out the town and, through the use of explosives, rolling gates, hidden walls, spears, arrows and the like, creating the perfect ambush for the sadistic Naritsugu.  Unfortunately thirteen is not a very great number against the two hundred forces surrounding Naritsugu.  Will heart, luck and righteousness be enough for Shinzaemon's group to succeed in their mission?

                A remake of the 1963 film of the same name, 13 Assassins is more than just a slice 'em dice 'em film.  Sure, there is a lot of violence in the film, but much of it doesn't take place until later on in the movie.  The main focus is in the deterioration of the beliefs and principles that went into becoming a samurai and on the question that has come to the mind of all samurai now and again: can one continue to follow a leader when he no longer embraces the dignity and honor that a samurai is sworn to uphold?  In rising up against the horrors of Naritsugu, the 13 assassins violate the rule of the shogun.  They refuse to honor an unjust and unethical leader.  Their crusade is honorable, despite being against the laws of the time.

                And boy, is that Naritsugu a piece of work.  Definitely has some problems.  In the midst of battle, with people dying horrific deaths around him, he is laughing and smiling and finding great joy in the blood and the violence.  In fact, during the battle, Naritsugu comes up with the notion that this is so much fun he should bring back the Great Wars between the samurai.  But when it comes time for Naritsugu to face his enemy, is he really up for the challenge?

                This film was incredibly dramatic and the cinematography was phenomenal.  The ways that the cameras panned and slowed at certain scenes helped drive home the utter hopelessness of the situation and the amazing abilities and heart of each assassin as they each fought for the cause they believed in. We find each of the actors portraying the assassins believable in their roles and viewers will root for their favorites and feel real sadness at losing those they thought might make it through the ordeal. 

                13 Assassins was a terrific dramatic action film that I wouldn't mind watching again.  The drama was poignant, the action amazing, the violence over the top, but the dramatic storyline is what really keeps the viewer's eyes latched to the screen until the last moments of the film.


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