Even if you aren’t aware of Japanese director Takashi Miike by name (who has a cameo in Eli Roth’s awful movie; ‘Hostel’), chances are you’ve either seen or at least heard about one or two of his movies like; ‘Ichi The Killer’ (on overrated gore-fest) or ‘Audition’(a movie that was included in my ‘Top 50 films of the decade’ on the old flud site). For those that are familiar with Miike’s work, you know that he isn’t shy about showing blood, guts and over the top violence (sometimes to the point where you can barely take it seriously). But after over 2 decades of exploding bodies, organs, vomit and graphic scenes of old women giving birth to full grown men (…yeah, I know), his style is getting a little old. I mean, we get it. You’re trying to shock us. Great.
But with Takashi Miike’s latest film; ‘13 Assassins’, he FINALLY has an excuse to not only be as bloody and violent as he wants to be, but actually make the violence serve a purpose other than to just “shock” the audience. In ‘13 Assassins’, we see a more modern take on the classic samurai tale made famous by directors like Akira Kurosawa. It’s sad to say, but I don’t think the average person (especially the average young person) is gonna wanna sit through a film like ‘Seven Samurai’, ‘Yojimbo’ or ‘Hidden Fortress’ (no matter how great those films are). Over the years, people have come to expect more and more action and violence in martial arts films. With samurai-related movies, the last few popular or memorable films from that genre were; ‘Shogun Assassin’ (which has earned a solid cult status over the years thanks to people like Wu-Tang and Quentin Tarantino), ‘Ghost Dog’ (probably one of the most misunderstood films of all time) and ‘Kill Bill’ (which inst even a full-on samurai movie). I think Miike realized samurai films needed to be slightly “updated” for the new generation, so he took the basic plot of an old samurai film and combined it with up to date action and came out with an amazing movie.
The plot of ‘13 Assassins’ is straight out of a Kurosawa film: 13 samurai, led by main character; “Shinzaemon”, each with their own unique style & personality, are hired to kill the sadistic character “Naritsugu”, who rapes and kills for the fun of it because he’s the shogun’s brother, which makes him “untouchable” (in Kurosawa’s ‘Seven Samurai’, we have a group of assassins who are hired to put an end to a group of bandits that are terrorizing a defenseless town). But for the 13 samurai’s, simply killing one man isn’t gonna be that easy. Naritsugu not only has a small army of his own, but his right hand man; “Hanbei” is one of the deadliest samurai around (and a former rival of Shinzaemon).
As one would expect in a film like this, there are epic battles (which are extremely entertaining and choreographed very well), the classic one on one finale, LOTS of blood and just all around amazing action. What also sets ‘13 Assassins’ apart from a lot of other recent martial arts films is that there are actually very good performances (especially from Koji Yakusho who co-starred in ‘Babel’ as well as the 1997 Cannes film festival best picture winner; ‘The Eel’). I’d go so far as to say this is Miike’s best work after ‘Audition’. That may not be saying much because I’m not the biggest fan of his, but whatever. Anyone who likes; anime, kurosawa, tarrantino or just martial arts films in general should enjoy ‘13 Assassins’.