Brought to the international market by the famous producer of Departures, a famous film talked about in my household, Toshiaki Nakazawa, and given to me by the power of Netflix, comes 13 Assassins. I know I just did a review on a movie called Bodyguards and Assassins, but this movie comes from a similar historical (loosely based) standpoint with a lot of no nonsense action to it. And I mean a lot of no nonsense, balls to the walls action. There’s not a lot interspersed, as with B&A, but it delivers in the end with a huge ass scene of carnage.
Set in the 1840s Japan during the era of the feudal Shogun, a young political rapscallion, Matsudaira Naritsugu is running train all over the place. Son of the former Shogun and bound to rise in his political standing, this evil young man thinks he cannot die and is above the law. He even made a nugget sex slave out of a poor little Japanese woman. Hard to watch and hard to
stomache, some have even committed seppuku, the ritualistic Japanese honorable suicide. Shown twice in the movie, it is an unpleasant act that, I have to say was tastefully done with the pull away shot that just suggests at the horror of slitting open your own stomach forcefully.
So this young man must be stopped. An aged samurai and political figure, Shinzaemon is planning on doing so. After seeing the injustices done on other family houses, no longer will those under the power of the Shogun stand for his little brother’s insolence. So, in true 7 Samurai fashion, this guy goes out and finds 13 samurai, the last of a dying occupation, in order to do the job. These guys range widely in status and character, but they all plan on fufilling their duty with conviction and honor.
After some awful background on this political Shogun relative bastard, the training montage begins. Not really a training montage, but a recruitment scene and subsequent honing of the skills. Followed closely by a planning stage and execution of said plan, we get a little trip to the site of the final (and really only) big battle. There are ambushes, strategies of true intellect, and dire tragedy. With no one safe and everyone’s honor on the line, who will come out victorious?
I must say the overall feel of this movie was true to its 1963 original. I’m also sure there has to be some influence from Kurosawa’s classic of 7 Samurai. I wouldn’t have put it in the title otherwise. A bunch of tough guns coming
together to stop a greater evil in a big showdown? Not many survive and evil must be thwarted at all costs? Yeah, I got that vibe from this movie. I wouldn’t have minded if this movie was in black and white either. The grainy quality of the film and the guerilla style of the landscape and shooting really gave it that end of an era, last action of a dying and barbaric peoples feel. That’s what I enjoyed, and the true suggestion of violence without entirely showing it that you get from horror movies of the 80’s and 90’s. A true classic approach to film.
What I didn’t like about it was the confusing nature of the characters. I can’t help it, but I gotta be a bit racist. Coming from an American, white person perspective, there were a lot of Asians running around who held very little difference in stature and character to me. You can attempt to pick out your favorites, but the movie made no effort in order to discern one person from another. Maybe this was done to show the collective resolve of the characters, but it became tedious towards the end.
Another thing that I hated/loved at the same time in this film (and I mean those terms lightly) is the action in the film. For those who like a bit more stylized violence in their viewing experience, you may not find that here. For those who love the chaos and the brutality of a film that just takes one massive battle and puts it into a gigantic perspective, this may be more your style. Coming from a priviledge era of spurting blood and close ups on decapitations, this movie pulls away from that. Focusing more on the feel of battle and not the gruesome details, you may not see more than some red hacks and slashes on bodies. And at the same time that that is happening, I’m not exactly sure how true to the Samurai Way that this film is. These guys, despite their training, seemed to just go out and wave their swords around like 13 year old tweens wanting to defeat Darth Maul in their backyards. I guess I’ll leave that up to people who actually know true sword technique.
With a bit of a lackluster acting chops cast, some of the more emotional scenes were lost on me. Maybe not towards the beginning with the injustices done by the evil Shogunate, maybe not even the death scenes that abound in this movie, but surely on the delivery of lines. This detracted from the period piece I felt this movie could have been, but if you’re a fan of Samurai 7, you need to check this movie out. Kurosawa would be proud. A decent 6.5 out of 10.