13 Assassins Review

Takashi Miike has modeled his 13 Assassins in the fashion of classic samurai films, but has thrown in a dash of modern ambition to his final showdown to give audiences a katana-slashing epic with a special flair that honors previous films of the genre while still offering something new. The action of a samurai film has a certain grace that separates it from other entries in the battle genre and raises it above the simple brutality of a gladiator or medieval epic. 13 Assassins is no exception to that rule and it holds true both in story and action as it’s safely divided between two well-paced halves: the introduction and the total massacre. Even if you’re not a fan of the genre, Miike has created something special with his 13 Assassins and it deserves to be seen and enjoyed by anyone with an appreciation for aesthetically beautiful films and stunning swordfights.

The sociopathic Lord Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki) has earned a reputation for random acts of sadistic cruelty and his reign has brought about an era of suffering and unrest. Fearing what will happen once Naritsugu takes full control and under the orders of Sir Doi (Mikijiro Hira), Shinzaemon (Koji Yakusho) assembles a collection of 12 samurai and a riley fighter to stage an ambush and kill Naritsugu. Forgoing their titles and becoming assassins, the 13 set their elaborate trap within a small village with some terrific staging. When Naritsugu, his top guard Hanbei (Masachika Ichimura), and their convoy arrive, the battle is more than anyone ever expected and what follows is a terrific bloodbath of flames, katanas, and buckets and buckets of blood.

A huge element of the final showdown is the element of surprise Director Miike unleashes both upon the forces of Naritsugu and the audience. By not showing the audience the typical preparation montage than many films like this usually do, the sudden unexpected shifts in the close confines of the village instill a sense of awe and leave you wondering what’s going to happen next – another place where the film shines. Not a single element of the final battle feels predictable or clichéd and Miike does a superb job keeping the twists and turns around the corner just out of sight until they’re right upon us.

The high-definition experience of Blu-ray does the brilliant cinematography of Miike’s film justice whether it’s the more intimate scenes within dojos or the visceral slaughter of soldiers in a village being torn to shreds. The one drawback of the HD is that the CGI’d bulls used as a diversion (and a clever one at that) stands out as composites, but considering how quickly the moment passes, it’s a negligible detractor. Miike’s film is a thing of beauty and if you have the chance to see it in HD, that’s the best way to see it. The audio is equally terrific and it goes a long way towards perfecting the atmosphere Miike crafted for his tale of samurai justice. Does the presentation really make it preferable over a lower resolution screening? Most definitely, as you’ll even notice a difference in presentation between the DVD and Blu-ray versions if you test them back to back. Go with the Blu-ray option and the final hour of the film will be one of the most memorable battles you’ll have seen in a long time.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

The combo pack includes the film on Blu-ray, DVD and as a digital copy. It’s in the extras that the disappointment with the product begins: there’s really only one extra to speak of and otherwise the set is decidedly lacking in additional incentives for a purchase. The sole extra is an interview with Director Takashi Miike and it’s worth watching, but it’s not enough. Yes, 13 Assassins is a triumph as a modern excursion into the samurai film genre, and yes hearing Miike talk about his film is a treat, but 13 Assassins deserves much more retrospective appreciation and this set’s extras just don’t reflect that. Maybe Magnet plans on releasing the Director’s Cut that my fellow writer Arya lauded after seeing it at NYAFF, but until then the set is only compelling for the film itself.

"13 Assassins" is on sale July 5, 2011 and is rated R. Drama, War. Directed by Takashi Miike. Written by Kaneo Ikegami, Daisuke Tengan. Starring Koji Yakusho, Mikijiro Hira, Goro Inagaki, Masachika Ichimura.

Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.


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