13 Assassins (R16)

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Review byMatthew Turner5/05/2011

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 126 mins

Impressively directed, sharply written and superbly acted, this is an emotionally engaging samurai drama that builds to a thrilling climactic showdown lasting a full 45 minutes.

What's it all about?
Directed by Takashi Miike, 13 Assassins is a remake of a classic 1963 samurai drama by Eiichi Kudo. Set in 1844 Japan, the film stars Koji Yakusho as top samurai Shinzaemon, who's secretly hired to assassinate sadistic warlord Lord Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki) – the Shogun's half-brother and therefore officially untouchable – when Naritsugu's latest bout of rape, torture and murder prompts the suicide of a nobleman.

In time-honoured fashion, Shinzaemon gathers together a team of 11 other warriors and prepares them for what will almost certainly be a suicide mission, laying an elaborate trap for Naritsugu and his 200-strong army and preparing to ambush them in a small town as they return from Edo. Along the way, Shinzaemon and company pick up a wild-eyed mountain man (Yusuke Iseya) who brings their numbers up to 13 and proves to be rather handy in a scrap.

The Good
The performances are excellent, with each of the assassins carving out distinct personalities, Seven Samurai-style. Iseya is particularly good as the mountain man (who provides several very funny comedy moments), while Inagaki is chillingly evil as Naritsugu (the opening sequence is particularly nasty) and Yakusho provides dignity and strength as Shinzaemon.

Compared to Miike's previous films, 13 Assassins seems deceptively straightforward and accessible, though there are still glimpses of the visual excesses and quirky horror moments that characterise his work, most notably in a shocking shot of one of Naritsugu's victims, a woman with her arms and legs amputated and her tongue cut out, who scrawls a message for Shinzaemon (“TOTAL MASSACRE”) using just her mouth.

The Great
What makes the film stand out is its extraordinary 45 minute climactic battle sequence, a thrilling bout of mayhem and bloodshed that involves booby traps, beheadings, emotional confrontations, heroic sacrifices and even, at one point, a herd of weaponised flaming cows.

Worth seeing
This is a brilliantly directed, superbly acted samurai drama that's worth seeing just for its thrilling 45 minute, action-packed finale. Highly recommended.

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13 Assassins (R16)
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Content updated: 18/10/2019 23:00

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