Adapted from Eiichi Kudo’s 1963 film of the same name, Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins turns familiar tropes into one of the more memorable action films in recent years. Set in feudal Japan, the story involves a group of men joining forces to stop a Shogun’s tyrannical half-brother. As no one wants to disrespect the Shogun’s authority, political advisors and servants alike must watch in horror as Lord Naritsugu (Gorô Inagaki) rapes and murders as he pleases. Fearing the chaos that could ensue if Lord Naritsugu gained more political power, a senior advisor secretly commissions an aging samurai, Shinzaemon (Kōji Yakusho), to assassinate the ruthless young man.
Assembling a team of 11 other samurai, and picking up a hunter, Koyata (Yūsuke Iseya), along the way, Shinzaemon soon realizes that this mission will be much harder than he originally anticipated. Not only does the Shogun’s half-brother have 200 armed escorts, rather than the 30 Shinzaemon was initially told, but one of the guards is Hanbei (Masachika Ichimura), an old sparring partner of Shinzaemon who is bound by duty to protect Lord Naritsugu at all costs.
Wonderfully building the narrative to a stunning action-packed crescendo, the final battle truly earns the title of “epic”, 13 Assassins is a sight to behold. While it is easy to make comparisons to Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, which clearly influenced the film, Miike delivers a unique action film that succeeds on its own merits. One of the great things about the film is how Miike skillfully ensures that the distinct personalities of each of the 13 men are always present, even when engaging in battle with numerous soldiers. It helps that the performances in the film are very strong, especially in regards to Gorô Inagaki’s chilling work as Lord Naritsugu. The disturbing element about Inagaki’s character is not the rape or mutilation he inflicts, but rather the childish glee he displays while doing so.
One of Miike’s more straightforward narratives, compared to his other more sensational works, 13 Assassins is a great film nonetheless. It delivers both an engaging story and a strong dose of excitement to satisfy even the most casual action fan.
13 Assassins is currently streaming on Netflix in the US