13 Assassins Review

Japanese samurai films have a rich pedigree and with a comparison drawn early on in the lifetime of 13 Assassins to that greatest of samurai dramas, Seven Samurai, critics have given it a tough precedent to follow. In typical Takashi Miike style, however, 13 Assassins proves to be brilliantly bloody and bloody brilliant, achieving the task of committing the presence of its forebears to the screen…with magnificence.

Japanese cinema has made a gradual retreat from the period films that dominated its cinematic tapestry from the 1940s to 1980s. Directors, writers and studios have found innovative and original themes with which to play. From the violent and fractured psyche of youth, in Battle Royale and Confessions, to the whimsical, fairytale qualities of Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle J-cinema, as it has become affectionately known, has entered a new golden age. In this age of critical and commercial success Miike has taken a brave step back in time to the crumbling era of samurai warriors, civil war and visceral reality that litter the landscape of his latest feature.

13 Assassins follows the story of a band of samurai on a suicidal journey to purge their clan of its sadistic leader, Naritsugu. Opening with an act of atmospheric violence the stage is set for a drama of epic proportions and the ensuing 126 minutes do not disappoint. The film is neatly and conservatively comprised of two parts. The first, an hour long build up of tense conspiratorial machinations, prudent planning and samurai-esque efficiency. The second, a journey through the eye of a needle; a no-holds-barred thrill of flashing steel, blood, mud and broken lives. The most joyous aspect of the two juxtaposed stages being that neither outshines the other. Other directors may have shown their hand early or have had an audience asleep in anticipation of the battle to come. Miike’s flair for set-up and introduction combined with his heady lust for all out violence makes for a potent and affectingly beautiful production.

At the same time the films greatest virtue lies in its simplicity. Essentially an assassination attempt on a very bad man, whose sadism though is compelling and intriguing, its story is at no point lost in its politics. A brief early allusion to the period is made redundant by the proceeding focus on conspiracy and violence. And that’s totally fine when it does those two things so well. The only drawback coming at the lack of empathy audiences may feel with the fated thirteen heroes. The careful selection process so conservatively rendered in Seven Samurai, providing a character arc for each of those heroes, is not apparent here. Each of the thirteen who falls, however, is a blow to the cause audiences are invested in and you’ll resent their passing.

A great step into a new genre for Miike expanding his potential beyond the surreal ultra-violence of Ichi The Killer and Audition and a great advertisement for his Cannes competition piece Hari-Kari: Death Of A Samurai.


An absolutely glorious return to Japanese period drama at its best! Guts, gore, swords, mercurial heroes and fallen warriors combine for an elegant and staggering achievement. See it.


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