For the longest time Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike has been known as one of the most gonzo, brutal and in-your-face directors. Films like Audition and Ichi the Killer torture and hook the viewer, holding them captive in a trance only Miike can supply.
13 Assassins works in a similar fashion. Telling the tale of a group of assassins (13 to be exact!) and their attempt to take out a violent, unforgiving lord, Miike finds excellence in both patience and unrelenting violence.
The film works in two halves. Part one is a slow, creeping and building dialogue between samurai, swordsmen and more. Miike introduces the men who will give the life for the sake of his story and for the sake of defeating Lord Naritsugu for the greater good. You might find yourself looking at your watch if what you’re looking for is a complete action film. Otherwise, you will appreciate Miike’s patience in building tension.
We meet key players and samurai through Miike’s patient first half, like Shinzaemon, Shinrouko and more. They are the cogs to the plan to knock Naritsugu off of his brutal and violent power trip that has in mercilessly murdering innocent people and torturing others. Because of Miike’s obvious placement of good and bad, we begin to hate Naritsugu as much as the samurai who are willing to go on a suicide mission to kill him do. And that’s a good thing.
Knowing Miike, most viewers are going to be anxiously tapping their toe on the floor waiting for the blood to flow. He did the same thing in Audition, dragging tension out as long as possible before introducing us to some of horror’s greatest moments. In 13 Assassins (which is technically a remake of Eiichi Kudo’s 1963 film The Thirteen Assassins) we are waiting and waiting for what we know is inevitable in a Miike film. This beauty is all about the payoff.
What we patiently move through in the first half is eventually paid off through an epic 50 minute battle sequence between 13 assassins and about 200 of Naritsugu’s men. The samurai turn a small village into a death trap, which sets the stage for a bloody, violent and tour-de-force kind of fight that rivals any the samurai genre has ever seen. I know Akira Kurosawa has filmed his great share of brilliant fight scenes, but Miike’s gonzo approach and energy that you can’t escape sort of elevates 13 Assassins, bringing it to a level of punishment unheard of.
I actually expected even more violence out of Miike than we get. I remember witnessing some pretty brutal moments in his previous films. That said, this isn’t a film for children. It is sacrificial, suicidal and dark. In true Miike fashion it holds lighter moments close to the serious ones, juxtaposing emotions we can’t even begin to compute in our minds. We’re challenged to laugh, cry and pay tribute to the film’s heroes all at the same time.
Miike is one of film’s most challenging directors. He never gives you anything at face value and he never holds back. 13 Assassins is no exception to this method of filmmaking. It is positively one of the most impressive samurai films our modern area of cinema has seen and should be taken in by more souls. If anything, you’ll learn a good lesson on dedication, challenge and appreciate by sitting through Miike’s creeping and slow first half while you await the payoff found in the 50 minute battle.
Please stay tuned and don’t cut this film short before the blood is shed.