13 Assassins 十三人の刺客 (2010)

13 Assassins   13 Assassins Film Poster

Japanese: 十三人の刺客

Romaji: Juusan-nin no shikaku / 13nin no Shikaku

Release Date: September 25th, 2010 (Japan)

Running Time: 141 mins.

Director: Takashi Miike

Writer: Daisuke Tengan, Kaneo Ikegami (Screenplay),

Starring: Koji Yakusho, Takayuki Yamada, Yusuke Iseya, Sousuke Takaoka, Hiroki Matsukata, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Ikki Sawamura, Arata Furuta, Seiji Rokkaku, Kazuki Namioka, koen Kondo, Yuma Ishigaki, Ken Mitsuishi, Goro Inagaki, Masataka Kubota, Mitsuki Tanimura, Takumi Saito, Kazue Fukiishi

It is only May but I have witnessed the best film of 2011 and it is 13 Assassins. The following review will contain nothing but fulsome praise for Takashi Miike’s film so brace yourselves…

1844, Japan. In the last decades of the Shogun and before the reforms of the Meiji era there is a moment of fragile peace. Unfortunately this peace will be shattered with the promotion of the Shogun’s half-brother, the depraved and psychopathic Lord Naritsugu (Inagaki Goro) who uses his status to commit acts of depravity and evil against the people of Japan. In an effort to preserve order, high ranking official Sir Doi calls upon noble samurai Shinzaemon Shimada (Yakusho Koji) to carry out an assassination. Waiting for Naritsugu to leave Edo with his personal army, Shinzaemon recruits twelve others to carry out a daring ambush in a remote village.

The 13 Assassins AssembledEven before the acclaim on the festival circuit and wins at the Japanese academy awards, I was interested in this film because of the director. Takashi Miike is a name that promises exciting, twisted and bizarre films so it is surprising that 13 Assassins is actually a serious remake of a 1963 film.

13 Assassins is concerned with the problems of the feudal system and the samurai code; how officials like Naritsugu can abuse their power, how samurai willingly sacrifice themselves for Lords who toss away their lives and the difficultly samurai find in an era of peace where their skills are no longer required.

These themes are throughout the film. Most samurai we encounter are either in financial straits or in service to a system they acknowledge as flawed.

This subtext is played out in the battle between the antagonist Naritsugu and the hero Shinzaemon.

We witness some of Naritsugu’s depraved acts and abuse of power, the evidence culminating in a grotesque spectacle that sees Miike at his extreme and leaves the audience in no doubt that Naritsugu is pure evil of an aristocratic sort.

Lord Naritsugu, bad guy in 13 AssassinsThe scene is shocking, blood curdling even. It is made more powerful when you see the shock then delight that Shinzaemon displays in the same scene (brilliant acting): laughter bubbles from him as he states, “How fate smiles upon me. As a samurai in a peaceful era, I have been longing for a noble death.” He knows that his mission goes against the Shogunate system he has served and that it is almost certainly suicide but living in an era which no longer requires him is painful and taking out a sadistic monster who threatens the stability of the country is a good way to go out.

Shinzaemon, leader of the 13 Assassins

The first half of the film details the problem posed by Naritsugu and sets up the question of how Shinzaemon, will make his move, what stands in his way and who he will recruit as the twelve other assassins. When Shinzaemon does make his move, it is spectacular.

The final fight is visceral; witnessing the chaos hundreds of men fighting for their lives, dashing around from one set piece and awesome battle to the next packs a punch. It might have been exhausting and confusing except everything is well paced, with a flow that works well with the director’s choice of shots, especially when hand held camera and over the shoulder shots put you in the thick of the fighting, intercutting between each of the assassins as they wage their desperate fight against overwhelming odds.

As the fight approached I was tingling with anticipation and throughout the fight until the ending I was on the edge of my seat. It culminates in a magnificent duel that brings the various subtexts to a bruising clash and fitting end. The last time I felt anything like this excitement was during climatic finale to Inception.

Both Inagaki and Yakusho are magnificent, Inagaki providing a compelling antagonist who displays all of the aristocratic arrogance, delusions and lunacy his character requires whilst Yakusho is the right man to play the hero, grizzled yet charming and ironic.

Despite the drama and tragedy of events, there is still a vein of humour in the film, whether it is from samurai who let slip their mask of seriousness through a joke or error or through the way situation may pan out, the absurd is used to add levity to what could have been an overly-serious tale and humanise characters.

Period details are gorgeous. The sets are fantastic, screen doors in dojos and mansions creating areas of secrecy and danger, the village/death trap is packed with great set-pieces. As for the characters, everything from samurai chonmage and the make-up and shaved eye-brows of the Kiso women and the costume and regalia of samurai and retainers as they march through the landscape and do battle is magnificent. It all had the look of another world, something from the past and I was transported there.

As I walked out of the cinema I felt alive and let out a laugh. 13 Assassins is truly a brilliant film and I’m watching it for a second time today!

10 thoughts on “13 Assassins 十三人の刺客 (2010)

    1. Thanks for the reply.

      I don’t need to tell you this because you have excellent taste in film buuuut… Go see it now! Film of the year!

      News from Cannes suggest that his next film, Hara-Kiri, is meant to be less blood-thirsty but just as good.

  1. My friend Oli told me to come check your blog, and he was right. Amazing posts and very good taste 😉 13 Assassins is maybe Miike’s last masterpiece, he disappointed me so much after this one (even if I still have a few to check, like Blade of the Immortal). Sad the movie is shorter for its European release on Blu-Ray, I think it’s 15 shorter, but still amazing.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to visit.

      I agree with you.

      Miike has an incredible filmography. His world from the 2010s have mostly been okay adaptations of manga. His latest, First Love, sounds like a return to form.

      13 Assassins is one of the best experiences available and one you can show to newbies to get the interested.

      1. You’re welcome.
        Funny thing, even before 2010, he did many adaptations of manga (Ichi the Killer, Salaryman Kintaro), or remakes (Graveyard of Honor, Happiness of the Katakuris). But I don’t know, there was something more, something special and unique.
        First Love was released in here (France) early in January, but only a few screens, and too far from me. I can only hope for a Blu-Ray soon.

      2. The industry became hugely risk-averse and I guess Miike had to rein himself in. It might also be he didn’t feel any inspiration. The 90s and early 2000s saw a lot of weird and wonderful titles like Survive Style 5+ where you can see a decent budget was spent on making a unique story come to life. Titles like that are rarer these days.

        Or maybe I am forgetting some…

      3. I couldn’t say better than this… It’s the same everywhere actually. Money became the king in the industry, more than ever. You just have to check for 2019 the top 10 box office success of the year, and notice that 8 movies on those 10 are Disney movies…
        And in Japan, it seems like a lot of films are now produced with tv channels involved, requesting popular idols (who are often bad actors) for the leading parts.
        There are still some nice surprises in Asia, like last year The Forest of Love from Sono Sion, or Parasite from Bong Joon-oh, but those are rare.
        The last Miike I liked was, I think, As the God’s Will. Even if it was again based on a manga, it was pretty nice, interesting and funny. But I’ll really try to watch as soon as I have some time a few of his latest.

      4. That’s a good point.

        The production committee model is stifling uniqueness and despite the cash rewards, very little of it is passed to the creators. That’s why it’s important for film fans to support studios and creatives like Takashi Miike, Shinichiro Watanabe, Masaaki Yuasa and Science Saru etc when they produce daring high-quality works and ones with some social realism.

        The entry of Netflix into the environment means that there’s a company that thinks different and wants to take risks from time to time.

        Korea has an advantage in that they directly address taboo subjects and politics.

        Everything everywhere is in flux so we’ll have to see how the industry continues to develop. As this happens, us writers will continue to highlight interesting works!

      5. Yeah I agree. I try to support as much as I can, and 2019 wasn’t such a bad year after all, there were many interesting films from all over the place (and some very bad, but I tried to avoid most of em).

        Well, Netfly is a big complex, because it doesn’t seem that they are taking many risks so far. I mean, of course, there were some good flicks over there (again, the Forest of Love from Sono Sion was maybe his best film since Himizu, at least for me), but when they gave big budget to some people, we end up with the same thing we see on the big screen. But wait and see, maybe it’s just a start.

        I’m originally not a big fan of Korean movies, but I love Bong Joon-ho and some others, like Na Hong-jin. But their cinema is very social and political, true!

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