13 Assassins (2011) - This is another historical Japanese sword story of the time period towards the end of the Shogun era. In the little lesson text in the screen we get the setup of the time period. As Feudal Japan enjoys peace, the Samurai era is waning. But this fragile calm is threatened by the growing power of Lord Naritsugu Matsudaira (Goro Inagaki), the Shogun's sadistic younger brother. Sir Doi (Mikijiro Hira) realizes Naritsugu will run the Shogunite if he gains higher political standing. As Naritsugu's evil deeds are quickly hushed up, Sir Doi must act.
In the first scene The Akashi clan house elder commit hari kari opening a position the young cruel Naritsugu could occupy thus setting himself up as the next Shogun. Sir Doi goes to Samurai (Shinza) Shinzaemon Shimada (Koji Yakusho) who he convinces with scenes and stories of the cruelty of Naritsugu. The first where in a rival clans elder's house rapes the daughter in law and then kills her and the Elder's son. He is so callas believing that because of who he is all are there to serve him in any way he wishes. Next Doi shows him a peasant woman who was punished by Naritsugu as a way to punish her peasant husband for a peasant uprising. She is disrobed and Shinza sees she has had her arms and legs cut off at the knees and elbows. They develop an idea to kill the young Lord before he can take political office.
At the same time the Samurai, (Hanbei) Hanbei Kitou(Masachika Ichimura) protecting the Lord is active too. He is loyal to his Akashi clan and takes his job seriously. He learns that Doi has visited Shinza and suspects a plot. There is an old personal animosity he feels towards Shinza. He was never quite able to rise as high as the other man or command the same respect. He will do everything possible to keep Naritsugu safe for his clan and his honor and to prove himself against his rival. There is something else going on here too. Hanbei is from the school that the purpose of the Samurai is to protect the structure of the ruling order. Even with a horrible leader he sees his duty to be about doing his superiors bidding no matter how bad that is. Shinza believes that the purpose of the ruling structure is to protect the people and that in a case of a truly bad leader the Samurai must protect the people from him. These two beliefs put the men on paths towards a confrontation only one can walk away from.
The spies that Hanbei sends to get information surround one of the young warriors who will be in the plan being designed by Doi and Shinza. It is a plan to take this guy and get the plans, luckily Ronin Sahara (Arata Furata) is nearby and intervenes. We get to see what a bad ass he his and can look forward to him dispatching more than these four thugs later. Shinza goes about collecting the men who will make up twelve of the 13 assassins, the last will be added later. Shinrouko (Takayuki Yamada) wants to redeem himself from his gambling debts. There are other stories about the various men but honestly I have a hard time after the film connecting the faces to the character names. Horrible I know but reading subtitles and taking notes at the same time is hard.
We gets scenes of them training in the dojo, practicing and learning to set explosives and in general taking there planning seriously. Hanbei makes a surprise visit in the midst of this and we get the meet of what I explained earlier as Hanbei confronts Shinza with the little he knows but lets him know, he does know something is going on. The different philosophies are espoused and the men part knowing they will meet again on the field of battle.
The plan is to attack and kill Naritsugu when he is traveling to his spring house. There are a couple of things the group needs. One is to get the Elder in Ochiai Provence to block the way so Naritsugu is force to go the other possible route to a village they will be waiting at. This will be accomplished because that elder is the father of the couple the Lord killed earlier in the film. He just has to have the will power to defy ta direct order from the ruling clan leader. Not positive this will happen but Shinza sends men ahead to try to convince him. The second thing is that the Mayor of the village they are going to attack in must be bought off. This is done by two of the men and a case load of gold.
Shinza and his remaining eight men travel towards the village and are confronted by paid thugs from Naritsugu. They fight hard and dispatch them but realize the entire trip could be like this. Hanbei has set up a situation where they could be worn out by the time they reach there destination. This leads them to leave the road and cut across over the mountains. Getting lost in the hills is a horrible end to this shortcut, but luckily they run into a mountain man named Koyata Saga (Yusuke Iseya) who joins them and leads them out and to their target village. I only had one pass on this film but is seemed to me that Saga was very obviously killed in the final battle. He had a spare through his throat if I remember correctly. Then when the battle is done he reappears unhurt and it made me wonder whether he was some deity who joined in for his own purposes. I could be wrong there is so much great stuff going on in the final twenty five minute battle.
They all get to the village where they will launch their attack and start to prepare it. The writers (Kaneo Ikegami and Daisuke Tengan) and director (Takashi Miike) do a great job in this section not showing you everything that is being done to prepare. Miike and Tengan also did one of my favorite films of all time, Audition which is a strange mix of weirdness and horror. So that when the battle starts later there are some great surprises for us as an audience. In fact this film is worth seeing just for this final sequence. Similar in idea to the Seven Samurai protecting the village from bandit but still not so concerned with leaving the village intact at the end. After all the goal is to kill Lord Naritsugu. As they work we they learn that the army of 70 and the Lord were successfully turned towards them. We the audience get to see it and I was smiling at it. Naritsugu is such a prick of a bad guy to see him fail was excellent.
All of this was for the final battle where all the preparation is put into use, but first we wait, the assassins wait, no troops come. When they do the 70 has been reinforced and is now 200 men. The battle will be epic and surprising and worth every penny I paid to watch this film. I am not going to spoil it here but when the final showdowns come it has been an excellent fulfilling ride. One give away I will give you is that the most frightening thing I never thought about but now can is flaming cows.
This was an excellent film, the cinematography by Nobuyasu Kita is both gritty and beautiful at the same time. The script is tight particularly for this genre which can be plot heavy. The direction is wonderful and scenes very well shot. The acting is subtle and powerful bringing import to the characters and letting us feel what is at stake as an audience. So lets rate this puppy remember I am a bit bias as I love these kind of stories.
Rating (8.5) 5.0 and up are recommended inthe Zombiegrrlz system Go see it!!