Much like honour and courage, the Japanese samurai epic is something that cannot be bought with money – no matter how much some Hollywood studios are willing to pay. The closest recreation came through Tom Cruise of all people, with Edward Zwick’s 2003 epic The Last Samurai.
And while the concept behind 13 Assassins is not original, the fact that it’s done right is what makes it so refreshing.
Cult director Takashi Miike, who has tried his hand at everything from horror to family films, is as celebrated as he is controversial for the often disturbing nature of his work.
13 Assassins is perhaps Miike’s most commercial film to date but that’s not to say that he’s sold himself out – the film is chock-full of absurd characters, unnecessary violence and utterly disturbing images.
The concept itself is obviously heavily-influenced byKurasawa’s Seven Samurai, as a veteran warrior gathers an unlikely bunch of assassins to defeat an evil lord.
And while it’s obvious that Miike intended to explore the skills and backstory of each member separately, some introductions were rushed and many characters are left unexplored.
As with the Spartans from 300, these samurai are confronted by a far greater army and must fall back on their courage, swordsmanship and some tricks up their sleeve to ensure victory. And so 13 Assassins culminates with a 45-minute battle sequence that will go down in history, packing in as much edge-of-your-seat thrills, perfectly-orchestrated action, original battle tactics, emotional depth and laugh out loud moments as it can possibly muster.
The beautiful Japanese scenery seems often mythical, especially as the warriors trek through the mountainous forest – the backdrop creates an element of fantasy that can only compare to the quest from Lord of the Rings.
With more than 70 films on his resume, Kôji Yakusho is more than capable of portraying the older and much-wiser leader of the group. His interaction with each of his men and enemies is essentially what holds 13 Assassins together, displaying affection, enjoyment, interest, encouragement, rage and remorse for the actions of those around him.
13 Assassins comes complete with plenty of often-childish laughs – the kind that are immature but easily tolerated in Asian films and television shows (think Monkey). A majority of the laughs come from the hunter (or 13th assassin) they find trapped in the woods and the evil Lord they are sent to assassinate, played by Japanese pop star Gorō Inagaki. Inagaki is a member of the popular Japanese boy band SMAP and while his filmography is nowhere near the length of his on-screen adversaries, he stands out as one of the most interesting and unique villains to date.
Miike Takashi is truly a master of his craft, finding the strange balance between absurd violence and child-like humour, while remaining focussed on the traditional Japanese values like loyalty and honour that make samurai films so timeless.