13 Assassins

Takashi Miike is a prolific Japanese director whose work has acquired something of a cult following. I have previously only seen two of Miike’s films. The Happiness of the Katakuris is a musical comedy with grisly elements in it. Yatterman is a superhero fantasy with CGI effects, musical numbers, and cheesy low-budget sets and costumes. One thing the two films have in common is a very dark sense of humor. The comedic high point – or low point, if you will – in the first film comes when a 500-pound sumo wrestler suffers a fatal heart attack and crushes his underage girlfriend to death.

13 Assassins is a very different film from these two. For one thing, there’s not much humor in it – which is perhaps a good thing. There are no musical numbers – which is definitely a good thing. It is an example of what the Japanese call a jidaigeki, a historical film that (so far as I could tell) is very accurate in its period detail. It is reportedly based on a real incident.

In the early nineteenth century, the Shogun’s brother, Lord Naritsugu, is a depraved murderer and rapist. His sadistic crimes threaten to provoke a rebellion from the people. Lord Doi, a high government official, decides that Naritsugu must be assassinated before he tears the country apart. He calls upon a respected samurai, Shinzaemon (Kōji Yakusho) to carry out the deed. Shinzaemon recruits the best fighters he can find to help him. They hide out in a village, where they plan to ambush Naritsugu, who is traveling with a small army.

With its story about a small group of samurai fighting against a much larger force, 13 Assassins invites comparison with Seven Samurai. While this film is bloodier and more graphic than Kurosawa’s masterpiece, the characters are not as complex or as interesting as the ones in the latter. It also lacks Kurosawa’s narrative skill: the sword fighting scenes start to get a bit repetitive after a while. Still, if you just like an entertaining samurai film, you will surely enjoy this.

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