13 Assassins Movie Review - www.impulsegamer.com -

13 Assassins
Reviewed by Damien Straker on September 4th, 2011
Icon Film Distribution
presents a film directed by Takashi Miike
Screenplay by Daisuke Tengan
Starring: Goro Inagaki, Koji Yakusho, Takayuki Yamada, Yusukie Iseya
Running Time: 126 minutes
Rating: TBA
Released: September 8th, 2011


3/10

 

 

13 Assassins is set in the 1830s in Feudal Japan. Madman Lord Naritsugu Matsudaira (Gorô Inagaki) is on a killing spree, murdering people at will, raping a woman and using children as a pincushion. He is nearly untouchable as he is the son of a Shogun. It is feared that if this lunatic reaches a new clan he will be untouchable. A former samurai warrior in Shinzaemon (Kôji Yakusho) is brought in to take out Naritsugu before he can reach his destination. He brings in eleven other warriors to help him and they secretly plot the ambush. One of the men is Shinzaemon’s nephew (Takayuki Yamada) and he has to explain to him that this is a gamble worth fighting for. On their way to a village they find their thirteenth warrior in a colourful hunter named Kiga (Yusuke Iseya). He’s more of a misfit that a true samurai. The group takes shelter in a village, working to block off the path of their target. But just as the ambush is about to begin they realise that they are not being faced with seventy men, as originally expected, but over two hundred soldiers.

All of the bloodletting in 13 Assassins is skin-deep. That’s not to say the film isn’t violent. The opening of the film is sickening as we see a man commit Harakiri by plunging a blade into his stomach. There are grotesque images in this film that are difficult to watch too. A starving woman, who has had her limbs lopped off and her tongue cut out, is revealed to Shinzaemon and the audience. What does this all mean though? You can read the film as a Dirty Dozen-like imitation with moments of courage against insurmountable odds. But there’s little beyond that mere incision. It is difficult to find inspiration in these characters because they are so broadly drawn. The film would have been better with fewer assassins, who were more complete characters, instead of these vague constructs like the comic relief guy or the wise old samurai. And with little knowledge of this foreign cast, I found it very difficult to tell the more obscure members of the group apart because they are so similar in type. They can do little to distinguish themselves emotionally with stilted dialogue either. When one of the men is leaving his partner at home he tells her: “If I’m late...I’m at the festival of death”. Maybe it reads better in a native tongue. That’s a big ‘maybe’. There are bigger problems relating to the film’s politics than just the actors though. The film seems convinced by individual sacrifice and the glory of gambling your life in moments of national crisis.

Contextually that might seem honourable and moving for some. But there’s a refusal to critique or deconstruct the questions of sacrifice in a meaningful way. It makes the film seem primitive, without making a point of it. And it’s equally uncomfortable to watch when you consider how much real mindless bloodshed we’re exposed to today. One of the film’s major selling points is that the final battle rages on for forty minutes.  Twenty minutes is too long for me and anything over that is just excessive. The first half plays like a cartoon and is at odds with the grittiness of the violence shown earlier. The group cut down hordes of men without being touched. Where is the tension? And there are silly portions of the battle that diminish the realism. Where did the giant bamboo gates they use to block the baddies suddenly come from? And who let the CGI cattle on fire?  In the last twenty minutes it washes over you so much that what happens seems of little relevance. The film is well crafted in respects to costume and set design. But it lacks the visual inventiveness and symbolism of similar oriental epics like Hero (2002) with its selective use of colour. A lot of scenes here are overly dark and the film’s tones during the day are endlessly grey and washed-out. Perhaps this film will be more attuned to those acquainted with Japanese history than a dopey Westerner. But I found the continuously mindless slaughter unspectacular and extremely difficult to sit through.






 
 



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