13 Assassins ****

Running time: 125 mins  Certificate: 15

Synopsis: In Japan, 1844. Lord Naritsugu (Inagako), the Shogun’s illegitimate brother rises to power, but is an insane sadist. Shinzaemon (Yakusho) has to assemble a small band of men in order to assassinate Naritsugu and defeat his samurai army.

 

Takashi Miike has directed some shockingly violent movies and his reputation for gore tends to overshadow his quieter, more understated films like ‘Blues Harp,’ ‘Rainy Dog,’ and his masterpiece ‘Dead or Alive 2 – Birds.’  Even his most famous film ‘Audition’ is remembered for its gruesome finale, rather than the restrained, almost tender courtship that precedes it.  It is a love story in its own strange way, with a devastating consummation, but people remember the needles and the missing limbs.  

 

’13 Assassins’ sees Miike delivering his most mainstream film to date; a crowd-pleaser that mixes both sides of Miike, the showman and the artist.  After a respected samurai commits Hari-Kari in protest at the rising influence of the cruel Lord Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki), Shogun officials approach ageing warrior Shinzaemon (Koji Yakusho) and ask him to put together a team to assassinate Naritsugu.

 

These include the tall, powerful Ronin, Hirayama (Tsuyoshi Ihara), a former pupil of Shinzaemon who longs to repay his master; gambling addict Shinrokuro (Takayuki Yamada) who loves the idea of gambling with his life, and the pick of the bunch, peasant Koyota (Yusuke Iseya), who dislikes Samurai for their arrogance, but is always up for a fight. 

 

13 Assassins is a remake of a 1963 film directed by Eiichi Kudo. Miike replicates the old fashioned classical style of the original and of its main influence, Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai ((1954).  However there are still plenty of moments that are unmistakably the work of Miike Takashi, a director who is capable of creating haunting imagery, a particular example being a close-up of a survivor of Naritsugu’s attentions as she gives out a blood-curdling scream that will send shivers down your spine.

 

While Miike honours the bravery of the Samurai he is scathing about their politicking and their outdated notions of behaviour. You get the feeling the wild, anarchic livewire Koyota is more to Miike’s taste. “Do only Samurai matter in this world?” he asks wearily, while smacking Naritsugu’s henchmen around the head with what appear to be giant drumsticks. Though it begins to drag a little during the second act, the climactic battle is outstanding with Miike bringing the viewer right into the action as 13 men battle 200 in a variety of inventive and exhilarating ways. 

 

Reviewed by Kevin Sturton

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