Film Review: 13 Assassins (2010)

| 1 August , 2011 | Reply

13 Assassins (2010)
Directed by: Miike Takashi
Starring: Koji Yakusho, Takayuki Yamada, Yusuke Iseya

The tagline for this year\’s Sydney Film Festival is, ‘161 Films, 42 Countries, One Film Festival\’ – somehow, I think they forgot to mention the rain. I\’m standing in line at the Dendy at Circular Quay, and behind me, the queue snakes out back into the inky night, where the rain is falling with a steady precision. But somehow, no one seems to mind too much – after all, one of the great pleasures of attending any film festival is the anticipation, and ahead of me, a man in a smart white vest and pin-striped pants is talking with his friend about the film we are about to watch.

Premiering last year at Venice/Toronto, 13 Assassins (in Japanese with English subtitles) is the most recent film by the incredibly prolific and astoundingly versatile director Miike Takashi. (Given the rate he churns out movies, it\’s a safe bet that this description of ‘most recent film\’ won\’t last long.) Set in the twilight of Japan\’s feudal era, it\’s a remake of Eiichi Kudo\’s 1963 film, which was, in its turn, a loose adaptation of Kurosawa\’s classic Seven Samurai.

13 Assassins is a period action film that revolves around the ideals and stringencies of the rigid samurai dictates of honour and duty. The decadent and sadistic younger brother of the Shogun, Lord Naritsugu, lives a privileged life devoted to indulging in his every bloodthirsty and perverted whim. This sets off a chain reaction of political intrigue, where the shogun\’s top official quietly enlists the veteran samurai Shinzaemon Shimada (Koji Yakusho) to despatch the depraved Lord. Shinzaemon gathers a motley group of 12 other men, and plans a complicated ambush. Shinzaemon\’s opponent is his old friend and sparring partner, Hanbei, who now leads Naritsugu\’s entourage of troops, and is bound by the responsibilities of the samurai code, despite his own misgivings and principles.

Miike Takashi, the acclaimed cult director, has largely made his name for ultra-violent, bizarre, idiosyncratic films, such as Ichi the Killer. But he\’s proven equally capable of making light-hearted children\’s films, gripping period films, and character-driven crime dramas – some invested with a surprising emotional delicacy.

13 Assassins has its fair share of gory shock and spilt blood, but is relatively conservative and restrained compared to Miike\’s more uninhibited work. It\’s meticulously crafted, and carefully builds up to its climatic 45-minute set-piece battle sequence in a small village between the baker\’s dozen of assassins and Lord Naritsugu\’s personal army. Undeniably entertaining, 13 Assassins will be compared by some to the stylised violence and black humour found in Quentin Tarantino\’s films (and although apt, this certainly flips the direction of influence the wrong way around).

13 Assassins screened at the Sydney Film Festival, which ran from 8-19 June. Find out more at If you missed it 13 Assassins will be in cinemas September 8.


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