13 assassins is a 2010 japanese samurai film by director, takashi miike (audition, ichi the killer). it tells the story of 13 warriors who join together to stop a ruthless warlord named lord naritsugu. i had originally gone to see the film when it first opened but recently just saw it again streaming on netflix.
the film, like most genre films, expects you to have some built-in expectation of the characters. it is a handy short-cut for directors to exploit and allows them to push the plot of genre films without going deep into boring exposition that can slow the film down. 13 assassins is very much a plot-drive film, wasting little time exploring the individual characters. that does not mean, however, that the film is devoid of social critique.
13 assassins takes place towards the end of the edo period in japanese history, which ended in 1868 when the meiji period began. this marked the end of samurai prominence in japan. as stated, there is some expectation that the viewer is aware of samurai culture through previous films or through pop culture knowledge. playing off our expectation of samurai culture, the film blends nostalgia and reverence over the samurai way of life with utter contempt at the same time.
the overarching moral question throughout the film is whether the samurai's duty is to serve his master or serve the greater good. perhaps idyllically one would expect it to be to serve the greater good, but history would suggest otherwise. this film struggles to find understanding of the morality of the samurai culture all the while glorifying it.
13 assassins is a great blend of classic samurai film-making (see kurosawa's seven samurai), comedy, action and absurdity woven into great story-telling. kōji yakusho does a phenomenal job playing shinzaemon, the leader of the 13 assassins and is like a great football coach (see coach taylor from friday night lights), the way he motivates and gains his team's trust. although the film's 2nd act is a bit slow, the 3rd act is one of the best action-packed hours you will ever see in a movie. overall, this is a great thrill ride and if you are fan of the genre or of great film-making, this is a must see.
no hyperbole allowed: a-
rotten tomatoes: 95%