13 Assassins is a Japanese Tour de Force from beginning to end set at the end of Japan's feudal era. Japanese director Takashi Miike has certainly delivered the goods in what is a gut wrenching swashbuckling samurai movie that owes many nods to the ultimate samurai classic, Seven Samurai.
13 Assassins doesn't offer anything new in terms of the samurai genre, but it takes something old and makes it really cool to watch again (if you are into that sort of thing). A sadistic aristocrat, Lord Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki), is murdering and raping anybody and anyone who he pleases and nobody dares touch him out of fear. A senior government official then decides to take action secretly seeks out retired samurai Shinzaemon (Koji Yakusho) and his band of warriors to assassinate Lord Naritsugu. Of course this is not an easy task as Lord Naritsugu has his own personal army.
Inagaki is brilliant at portraying the insanely brutal Lord Naritsugu and is a complete delight to watch as he delivers his take on the cruel tyrant with a rhythmic flow. He looks like he had a great time performing this role and I enjoyed watching every second of it. In contrast, Yakusho’s portrayal of Shinzaemon is the perfect polar opposite. He is a noble character and puts honour and duty above his own life – I liked how Takashi Miike makes the audience care about Shinzaemon and his objective.
Unfortunately the other samurais are not given much attention in terms of characterisation and the audience might struggle to familiarise themselves with all the 13 assassins. There were a few moments when I lost track of who just died during the 45 minute long battle scene, which is best described as being a rollercoaster ride of dazzling sword swinging action with a copious amount of gore. In fact, it is one long intense battle-scene that is inventive and compelling enough to keep the viewer engaged despite the ridiculous volume of blood-letting. Action like this is what Hollywood has been missing.
In summary I highly enjoyed the action and performances from the lead actors. The genre however is not for everyone and some might feel alienated but if you appreciate this kind of stuff you will not be disappointed.