Despite being a widely celebrated director, my experience with Miike’s films are limited to Gozu and Sukiyaki Western Django. While films like Audition and Ichi the Killer are currently on my Netflix Canada queue, I have not had a chance to get around to watching them yet. Needless to say, the two Miike films I have seen did not prepare me for what I was about to encounter with 13 Assassins, Miike’s remake of the 1963 Eiichi Kudo’s film of the same name.
Set in Feudal Japan, the Shogun’s younger brother Lord Naritsugu (Gorô Inagaki) is causing havoc with his blatant abuse of power. As no one wants to disrespect the Shogun’s authority, Lord Naritsugu rapes and murders at will with no fear of punishment. Fearing the chaos that would ensue if Lord Naritsugu gained higher political power a senior political advisor secretly commissions an aging samurai, Shinzaemon (Kōji Yakusho), to assassinate the ruthless lord. Assembling a team of 11 other samurai, and picking up a hunter, Koyata (Yūsuke Iseya), along the way, Shinzaemon sets out to kill Lord Naritsugu. Yet this task proves much harder than anticipated as the 13 assassins soon realize that Lord Naritsugu’s armed escorts are not the 30 men they expected but in fact 200 men. One of the 200 includes Hanbei (Masachika Ichimura), an old sparring partner of Shinzaemon who is bound by duty to protect Lord Naritsugu at all costs.
13 Assassins will most likely be compared to Akira Kurosawa’s classic, Seven Samurai, yet it would be silly to dismiss it as a knock off. While Kurosawa’s influence is there, Miike delivers a unique action film that succeeds on its own merits. As mentioned earlier, the film builds up to the centre piece fight scene that goes on for almost an hour. It never feels dull or boring as Miike skillfully keeps his characters at the forefront of the action and the special effects in the background. Miike uses the special effects to aide in the storytelling but not as a crutch
One of the great things about 13 Assassins is how each of the 13 men have distinct personalities that are always present, even when engaging in battle with 200 soldiers. The acting in the film is very strong, especially in regards to Gorô Inagaki’s Lord Naritsugu. Inagaki is menacing in his portrayal of the evil leader, in fact Naritsugu easily makes my list of favourite film villains. What is so disturbing about the character is not the killing and mutilation he inflicts, but his childish glee in committing the various acts. Lord Naritsugu not only willing walks into traps just to see what fiendish things the assassins have planned for him, but he also seems at peace amidst all of the carnage during the major battle. He even remarks that the battle has inspired him to bring back the “age of war” which he believes would be fun.
13 Assassins is a film that delivers both an engaging story and a strong dose of action. It features rich characters that not only help to make the film one of the better action films to be released in some time, but also one of the best films to come out this year.