Japanese film poster
|Directed by||Takashi Miike|
|Produced by||Toshiaki Nakazawa
|Screenplay by||Daisuke Tengan|
|Story by||Shōichirō Ikemiya|
|Music by||Kōji Endō|
|Editing by||Kenji Yamashita|
|Distributed by||Toho (Japan)
Artificial Eye (UK)
|Running time||141 minutes|
A samurai epic with a loose historical basis, the film was produced by Toshiaki Nakazawa, who also produced the 2009 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film Departures. Jeremy Thomas, the film's executive producer, has a reputation for successfully bringing Asian titles into the international market, most notably Bernardo Bertolucci's nine-time Oscar winner The Last Emperor, Nagisa Ôshima's Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence and Takeshi Kitano's Brother.
The film is set in 1840s Japan during the final decades of the Tokugawa shogunate. The Shogun's sadistic half-brother, Lord Matsudaira Naritsugu of Akashi, rapes, tortures, and murders at will. Sir Doi Toshitsura (Mikijiro Hira), the Shogunate's Justice Minister, realizes the situation will become more dangerous after Naritsugu ascends to a higher political position. After a wronged party publicly commits seppuku as an extreme protest against Lord Naritsugu, Sir Doi seeks out a trusted older samurai, Shinzaemon, who served under the former shogun. After showing Shinzaemon evidence of Naritsugu's crimes, Sir Doi secretly hires him to assassinate the daimyo. However Naritsugu's loyal retainers - led by Hanbei; a fellow dojo student of Shinzaemon - learn of the plot by spying on Doi's meetings.
Shinzaemon gathers 11 more samurai, whom Sir Doi knows can be trusted including Shinzaemon's nephew, Shinroukuro. The 12 plan to ambush Naritsugu on his official journey from Edo back to his lands in Akashi. However just before they leave, Hanbei arrives and warns his old colleague that he will suffer grave consequences if he tries to kill Naritsugu.
The group, with the legal authority and financial assistance of Sir Doi, buy off the town of Ochiai in order to create an ambush. They also enlist the help of a minor lord whose daughter-in-law was raped and whose only son was murdered by Naritsugu. With his retainers, he blocks the official highway forcing Naritsugu to detour toward Ochiai. During the assassins' journey to the town, they are attacked by ronin paid off by Hanbei to kill the plotters. The group decides to head through the mountains but become lost. In the process they encounter hunter Kiga Koyata who becomes their guide and they adopt him as the thirteenth assassin.
Ochiai is converted into an elaborate maze of booby traps and camouflaged fortifications. However, when Naritsugu arrives, his retainers have been reinforced by additional troops. The 13 assassins are no longer facing 70 samurai; now there are 200. A lengthy battle follows with Naritsugu and his guards trapped inside the village and attacked on all sides by arrows, gunpowder, spears, and swords – with the exception of Koyata who fights with rocks in slings. As he witnesses the carnage, an excited Naritsugu vows that it's the most fun he has ever experienced. He tells Hanbei that when he ascends to the Shogun's counsel he will bring back the civil wars of the Sengoku period.
Slowly the assassins are killed but not before they inflict heavy casualties on the Akashi forces. Naritsugu and Hanbei manage to escape the ruins, only to be cornered by Shizaemon and Shinrokurō. After Shizaemon kills Hanbei, Naritsugu contemptuously kicks his loyal retainer's head away. Contemptuously Naritsugu announces that both the people and samurai have only one purpose and that is to serve their lords. But Shizaemon counters by telling Naritsugu that lords can't live without the support of the people, and that if a lord abuses his powers the people will always rise against them. Naritsugu and Shinzaemon both mortally wound each other. As the lord crawls away in mud crying and experiencing fear and pain for the first time, he thanks Shinzaemon for showing him excitement before Shinzaemon decapitates him.
After Shinzaemon dies, Shinrokurō wanders through the carnage. He meets the hunter Koyata who has made a miraculous recovery after being stabbed in the neck by Naritsugu. The pair then make their own ways out of the town. An epilogue states that the Shogun and his government covered up what really occurred announcing that Naritsugu died of illness on the journey back to his lands. In 23 years, the Tokugawa Shogunate would be overthrown with the Meiji Restoration.
The 13 assassins
- Shimada Shinzaemon (Kōji Yakusho) – The leader of the group, a war weary, decorated samurai who believes that there is more to Bushido than blind obedience. Having believed that there was no chance for an honorable death, he is deeply elated when hired to carry out the mission. He is the 11th and final one to die during the battle.
- Kuranaga Saheita (Hiroki Matsukata) – Second in command to Shinzaemon, another veteran samurai who volunteers his best and most trusted students to join the group. He is the 9th to die after all of his students, he finally succumbs to his wounds as the town burns down around him and begins to fall apart.
- Hioki Yasokichi (Sōsuke Takaoka) – A highly skilled samurai from Kuranaga's dojo, he is the 1st to die, by his wounds after getting speared.
- Ōtake Mosuke (Seiji Rokkaku) – A plump-faced samurai with a jovial demeanor, but remains a tenacious fighter. He is the 3rd to die after watching Ishizuka die, though his death is not seen on screen.
- Horii Yahachi (Kōen Kondō) – A skilled samurai from Kuranaga's dojo who trained with Gennai in the use of explosives. He is the 5th to die after blowing himself up.
- Higuchi Gennai (Yūma Ishigaki) – Horii's demolition partner, a tough and skilled samurai who trained with Yahachi in the use of explosives. He Is the 6th to die after numerous wounds.
- Mitsuhashi Gunjirō (Ikki Sawamura) – Another samurai from Kuranaga's dojo who prepares Ochiai to trap their victim. He is the 4th to die while making a last stand.
- Hirayama Kujūrō (Tsuyoshi Ihara) – A ronin of unmatched swordsmanship, who trained under Shinzaemon. He is the 8th to die while fighting with literally every object he has in hand in front of his student.
- Ogura Shōujirō (Masataka Kubota) – A young samurai disciple of Hirayama, untested in battle but with unwavering devotion and skills to match. He is the 7th to die while watching his master fight.
- Shimada Shinrokurō (Takayuki Yamada) – Shinzaemon's nephew, he has strayed from Bushido to become a gambler and a womanizer. Bored and ashamed, he joins the mission to redeem himself. A deleted scene at the end shows him returning home to his wife.
- Ishizuka Rihei (Kazuki Namioka) – A skilled and courageous samurai who joined the mission with Sahara. He is the 2nd to die, from his wounds in front of Otake.
- Sahara Heizō (Arata Furuta) – An elder ronin, battle scarred and hardened, who favors the yari (spear) over the katana (sword). He is the 10th to die shortly after his spear breaks. Like Otake his death is off screen.
- Kiga Koyata (Yūsuke Iseya) – A hunter who is found suspended in a cage in the forest as a punishment for seducing his boss's wife and aids the assassins in finding a route to Ochiai as well as in combating the enemy samurai. He appears to die after being stabbed through the throat by Naritsugu's sword. After the battle, he appears to Shinrokuro unharmed. It is suggested that he is a goblin, or yōkai, in human form.
The film was produced through Nakazawa's entity Sedic International and Thomas' Recorded Picture Company. Nakazawa had previously worked with Miike on Sukiyaki Western Django, both Young Thugs movies, Andromedia, Yakuza Demon, and The Bird People in China.
Principal photography began in July 2009 on a large open-air set in Tsuruoka in the Yamagata Prefecture, northern Japan. On the advent of production, Thomas said he was pleased to be again working with "wonderful Japanese filmmakers like Toshiaki Nakazawa and Takashi Miike, whose work speaks for itself as being amongst the most successful and innovative coming from Japan." Nakazawa replied that he would like Thomas "to wear a sword also, and with one more assassin, together we will send out the fourteen assassins over there." The film wrapped in September 2009.
Thomas' London-based company HanWay Films is handling international sales, and launched the film at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. Toho had prebought the rights to distribute the film in Japan. The film competed for the Golden Lion at the 67th Venice International Film Festival.
The film was released on VOD, and subsequently DVD and Blu-ray Disc in the United States on 5 July 2011 by Magnet Releasing, an arm of Magnolia.
The film 13 Assassins met with positive reviews with an aggregate score of 96% on Rotten Tomatoes and a summary of "Takashi Miike's electric remake of Eiichi Kudo's 1963 period action film is a wild spectacle executed with killer, dizzying panache". Film critic Roger Ebert described the film as "terrifically entertaining, an ambitious big-budget epic, directed with great visuals and sound" and compared it favorably to other action films in its subtle use of CGI effects. Ebert also praised the way the film "focuses on story in the midst of violence", incorporating characters and drama with a skill that most blockbuster action films lack. Ebert later included it in his "Best Films of 2011" list as an addendum to his top 20.
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