13 Assassins (2010)
Directed by: Takashi Miike
Starring: Koji Yakusho, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Yusuke Iseya and Goro Inagaki
As I continue writing this blog I’m trying to figure out which movies to write about and why I should write about them. One of the biggest reasons for me to write about a movie is to hopefully get more people to watch it and I think that’s the mindset I’ll be employing each week as I write these. Which brings me to 13 Assassins.
A fun thing that a group of friends and I have been doing for about a year now is Kung Fu Friday (or Shaolin Saturday if Friday is a no go.). I’m a big martial arts movie buff and every week we get together to watch a martial arts movie or two. Typically I choose the films as I’ve seen a bunch of kung fu movies and I love showing people movies. I was recently unable to attend one of our get-togethers and my friends decided to watch a movie called 13 Assassins. They were not big fans. I had not seen 13 Assassins at this point and was a bit surprised to hear that they didn’t like it since it was a pretty big name in the samurai movie genre. I finally got around to watching it the other day and that brings us to right now.
What’s it about? The film follows 13 Samurai (who knew?!) (well actually only 12, one of them is a wild man from the woods), as they embark on a secret mission to kill a cruel and evil lord.
I can see how a group of people who have spent almost a year watching flashy and fun kung fu movies like Kung Fu Hustle, Ip Man and The Raid wouldn’t take so well to this movie. It isn’t flashy or upbeat. It’s a slow burn for sure, but I was very impressed with it. It takes it’s time making sure every character matters and every scene is important.
Takashi Miike has been credited with reviving the samurai genre with films such as Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai and Blade of the Immortal. He is an absolute master of his craft and I think this might be his best film. It’s a classic battle of good vs. evil with all the complexities of feudal Japan’s politics.
The Players: The villain of the piece is Lord Naritsugu, leader of the Akashi clan and half brother of the Shogun of Japan. Because of his relation to the Shogun, Naritsugu is nigh untouchable and he brutally abuses his power by torturing, maiming, raping and murdering his citizens for his own enjoyment. He is undoubtedly one of the most deplorable movie villains I’ve ever seen. This guy is evil personified. On the other side of the coin is the Samurai Shinzaemon Shimada, a famously wise man who attempts to orchestrate the assassination of the films vile antagonist. There are a lot of characters in this movie and not one of them seems unimportant. Some of the 13 Samurai have very small roles with minimal dialogue, but they are all there for a reason. My personal favorite aside from Shinzaemon himself is the character Hirayama. Hirayama (pictured above) was a Ronin, a Samurai with no master, who is simply unmatched as a swordsman. He doesn’t have battles with other Samurai in this film, he cuts through all his enemies with little to no effort and his final scene is so fucking cool. I could probably write a full post about him.
There are a few interesting sub plots as well and again I don’t feel like any of them are boring or unneeded. You’ve got the relationship between Shinzaemon and his gambling addict of a nephew which ends up being a pretty great story in and of itself. There’s also the rivalry between Shinzaemon and Naritsugu’s bodyguard, Hanbei. The two of them were friends at some point, but Hanbei’s loyalty to his lord causes them to face each other as enemies. Fucking great stuff.
One thing this movie has that a lot of other martial arts movies don’t is really great acting. Especially from Goro Inagaki. He plays the villain so well it’s infuriating. I found myself hating him the same way I hated Skylar from Breaking Bad or Joffrey from Game of Thrones. This guy was such a scum bag. I also loved how fun and loose Yusuke Iseya played the character of Kiga. He was kind of out of place in this movie, leaping about while he kills people with a sling, but it worked so well and right at the end of the film you get a brief glimpse of why he felt out of place. Also he delivers a truly impressive dropkick in the middle of a massive Samurai showdown and that alone is worth watching the entire film.
I’m just now starting to really explore Takashi Miike’s long and impressive career, but man did he make a wonderful film with 13 Assassins.
For fans of: Gladiator, 300, Kill Bill and cool Samurai shit.