Japan, 2010: 13 Assassins
Jusan-nin no Shikaku
Genre: Action, War, Historical
An aged samurai must lead a small team on a covert mission to assassinate the shogun’s vile stepbrother.
Cult favorite Takashi Miike directs this phenomenal period epic of feudal Japan, a retelling of the legendary battle of a band of warriors facing overwhelming odds. One of Miike’s best works in an already extensive filmography, 13 Assassins is quite possibly the greatest samurai film since the works of the late Akira Kurosawa. Filled with an ensemble cast of brilliant performers, the movie delivers a powerful story with amazing characters. The actors all nail their respective parts, although the readings can be a bit hammed up at times. Still, the striking drama of their relationships and roles within feudal society is stunning, bringing genuine human emotion to a world dictated by social obligations. Miike’s classic combination of deep suspense and perfectly timed levity is in full effect, maintaining an uncanny balance of dread, awe, and laughter. The first act might be a bit too Japanese for some, exploring the depths of old politics and cultural customs. However, once past this segment showing the limitations of the established social order, the story and character chemistry really begins to shine.
His first foray into the historical genre, Miike spared no expense to get everything just right for the film. The sets and costumes are simply amazing, even better with all the subtle etiquette details employed by the actors when necessary. Combined with the backdrop of Japan’s lush forests and natural beauty, and the illusion of feudal Japan seems just about perfect. Kenji Yamashita’s editing is superb, slowly building up the suspense in the first half and then smoothly picking up the pace as the final battle approaches. Everything is beautifully shot and scored, whether capturing serene picturesque landscapes or bloody murder. On the downside, Miike’s choice to include select moments of CGI is understandable, but quite obviously not at the same level of quality as other aspects of production. This lapse aside, however, this is one gorgeous piece of work.
Miike is well known for his work in the horror industry, and isn’t afraid to bring the gore. It’s done rather tastefully when it’s needed, but be prepared for some cringe-inducing moments. The actual swordplay is the best I’ve seen in the genre, benefiting from modern choreography experience and pacing while still retaining a distinct Japanese style of combat. If you couldn’t guess by now, 13 Assassins is the absolute must-see movie of the summer. Whether you’re a history buff, a swashbuckling enthusiast, or Miike cult follower, find a screening near you and make sure you watch this film.
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