Monday, 5 September 2011


Icon Film Distribution
Now Showing

I'll admit I'm not overly familiar with the samurai film nor the works of Japanese director Takashi Miike, although enough to know that the the two are mutually exclusive. Miike's films, I understand, span several genres although more often than not, involve a violent element. And it goes without saying that in a samurai film titled 13 Assassins, there will be blood.

The story of 13 Assassins takes place in feudal Japan, and the first half is a stately, somewhat slow moving period drama though admittedly with the occasional violent flourish, beginning with the film's opening scene of a ritual suicide.

The evil Lord Naritisugu (Goro Inagaki) has literally cut a swathe through the villages (and villagers), killing and maiming with abandon and purely for sport. That's when retired samurai Shinzaemon (Koji Yakusho) is called upon to put a halt to this villainy.

Shinzaemon assembles a team of samurai, the titular 13 Assassins - a Dirty (Baker's) Dozen if you will - charged with the mission of heading-off Naritisugu and his army at the foot of the mountains before they are able to pass through and on to safety.

It's here that Miike's film becomes a full-on actioner with this battle between good and evil taking up almost the entire second half of the film. And while not one for blood, I found these fight scenes refreshingly 'realistic', which is to say without the balletic and almost supernatural gravity defying sequences which have come to define Western-released martial arts films of the last decade, beginning with Ang Lee's Oscar-winning masterpiece, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. (And yes, I'm aware there is a difference between martial arts and samurai films.)

Similarly, and fittingly, 13 Assassins has a far more disciplined aesthetic than those other films; Miike opting for the period detail often found in the films of Japanese master, Akira Kurosawa, rather than the visually sumptuous extravaganzas of Zhang Yimou, such as House of Flying Daggers and Hero.

That is until Miike lets the blood run free and red becomes the film's primary colour. I don't know if 13 Assassins is a poor, good or great example of a samurai (or Miike) film, but I do know that I enjoyed it.


  1. It's pretty awesome right? I saw it at SFF. Those battle sequences in the latter half are astounding. Relentless and brutal, and with unbelievable continuity. I'll see it again, but it's not playing at Norton Street.

  2. Dendy Newtown? I was surprised that I did like given my unfamiliarity with the genre and my general squeamishness but then it's not too bloody, certainly not gory. I think I need to brush up on my Miike though.

  3. I want, no need to see this. Glad you mentioned Crouching Tiger's fantasy flights. I hated it.

  4. Them's fightin' words! I LOVE Crouching Tiger, for me Ang Lee's masterpiece (not Brokeback Mountain), just felt I needed to make the distinction between the styles of action. Hope you enjoy 13 Assassins.

  5. I own Audition and Ichi The Killer and some others on DVD. I will get them to you ASAP.