Director Takashi Miike is one the most active directors working in the film industry, Miike regularly churns out around three films every year. Japanese film fans will know him very well, acknowledging his lesser known films, while film fans in general will perhaps know him for Audition and Ichi the Killer which serve those with very strong stomachs. 13 Assassins made $800,000 in the USA and £140,000 in the UK, a film like this deserves more but it's destined for cult movie success.
13 Assassins is set in mid 19th century Japan (1840s to be exact) during a time when the shogun era is waning, there is a sadistic young lord who kills, rapes and mutilates at will, his name is Matsudaira Naritsugu (Gorô Inagaki). He executes a whole family with a bow and arrow and removes the limbs (and the tongue) of a young woman, he is the baddest man in the whole of Japan. Naritsugu is the son of the former shogun and the brother of the current shogun and thus he his above the law. Shinzaemon Shimada (Kōji Yakusho) is alert to the danger of this man being in such a powerful position and enlists the help of 11 other assassins (and later a peasant) to kill Naritsugu.
Takashi's 13 Assassins is a remake of Eiichi Kudo's 1963 film of the same name and the film also follows in the same mould as The Seven Samurai which clearly, like many other films of the same genre, is a huge influence as The Seven Samurai is the high point of the genre and of Japanese cinema. 13 Assassins is stylish filmmaking, it is beautifully shot, wonderfully acted and the production values are excellent. 13 Assassins takes its time to bring a little character to the story, giving them motives for joining the quest. Thirteen assassins is a rather large number, seven is by far a more manageable number, and this does show as some of the thirteen assassins are not quite as well developed as the others but the characters that are developed results in some compelling viewing as the viewer hopes for the thirteen assassins to accomplish their mission.
13 Assassins (to use a cliché) is a film of two halves, the first half is by far more of a philosophical look at the role of a Samurai. The role of a Samurai is to serve and project his lord but what if the moral obligations as human beings bring doubt to the defined role that a Samurai has been given? 13 Assassins spends plenty of time discussing and casting an eye over the feudal life of Japan in the 19th century creating a movie that is perfectly paced allowing the time for the viewer to become more engaged with the story and its characters in preparation for the epic 45 minute battle sequences rewarding every viewer in its fantastic final act. Takashi Miike even adds in a spot of comedy when a peasant questions why samurais are so arrogant, right in the middle of the battle that results in an unpretentious film that is meant for entertainment only, that removes any stereotype that some had about the pretentiousness of foreign cinema and film snobs.
Many have heaped praise upon the film's final act, and rightfully so, but there has been less emphasis on the first two acts that include the development of the motives, ideas and emotions of the main members of the thirteen assassins and the perfect pacing of Takashi Miike’s masterful film. These characterisations and the perfect pacing make the epic battle sequence far more exciting. The forty minute action sequence would have made for less compelling viewing if Miike has not spent any time developing his film from being more than just another Japanese Samurai movie. The final act has been claimed the movies best but I feel that there is an even tone and quality throughout the film from the discussions of the first act, the battle of wits between Hanbei Kitou (Masachika Ichimura) and Shinzaemon Shimada of the second act and 45 minute carnage of the final act.
The climactic battle has been given some exceptional praise and for good reason, it is a battle of total carnage resulting in a humongous death count. It has everything a viewer could possibly demand, exquisitely well choreographed sword fights, intelligent battle tactics employed by the thirteen assassins and editing that does not feel like you are watching a film that was edited in a blender. It doesn't overdo it with GCI and the quite magnificent battle scene really is the Japanese film industry giving Hollywood the middle finger showing them how epic action sequences are really done. Michael Bay, watch and learn. Though, there is one flaw, you many question how one of the thirteen assassins survived such a blow but the battle sequence was so much fun you end up not giving a damn and rejoicing at seeing an action scene that stands head and shoulders above a vast majority of climatic battles.
13 Assassins is a movie destined for cult movie success just like his other works such as Audition and Ichi the Killer. 13 Assassins ranks among the best films of the year and can appeal to anyone who loves action movies, even those who are scared of writing at the bottom of a screen. Sensational performances and perfect pacing really bring out the best of the conclusion which would never been as great without the development of the story, ideas and most of the characters before it.