13 Assassins (15)
Men-on-a-mission movies are two-a-penny. This one, however, knocks all competitors into a cocked hat.
Takashi Miike has crafted a barnstorming adventure story that combines the honour and loyalty of 19th century feudal Japan with ferocious fight choreography that equals the best of Kurosawa. He does for samurai movies what Sam Peckinpah did for westerns.
This may well be his best film yet. Certainly it emerges as an instant classic and a fine entry into the annals of samurai movies.
Appalled by the cruelty of Lord Naritsugu – a murderer, rapist and sadist who uses children for archery practice – nobleman Shinzaemon (Kôji Yakusho) engages 12 samurai warriors and embarks with them on a suicide mission to kill Naritsugu and end his tyranny once and for all.
This is a blistering account of the Shogun era. A thunderous, kinetic and wholly plausible evocation of old Japan, it concludes with an extended 45-minute battle sequence in a deserted village as Shinzaemon and his chosen men take on Naritsugu’s 200-strong bodyguard.
Fast-paced action has long been a staple of the Far East’s action genre. Indeed, it made stars of John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat. Miike has utterly reinvented the concept, bringing to modern audiences the ultimate cinematic experience.
13 Assassins is packed with memorable moments and sequences. It begins with an act of seppuku that is both elegant and shocking. In fact it is surprising that Miike manages to avoid excessive bloodletting; blood is present throughout the film but Miike refrains from lingering on the sort of overt violence that underlines the likes of Braveheart.
This is a magnificent tableau, fast-moving and political. It is also dense – a dramatis personae is required to follow the characters. Yet it is thrilling, occasionally funny and always mesmeric in presenting a portrait of heroic bloodshed in a lost age of chivalry, law and honour.