Japanese film poster
|Hepburn||Jūsannin no Shikaku|
|Directed by||Takashi Miike|
|Produced by||Toshiaki Nakazawa (Sedic International)
Jeremy Thomas (Recorded Picture Company)
Takashi Hirajō (TV Asahi)
|Screenplay by||Daisuke Tengan (天願大介)|
|Story by||Shōichirō Ikemiya|
Gorō Inagaki (SMAP)
|Music by||Kōji Endō (遠藤浩二)|
|Cinematography||Nobuyasu Kita (北信康)|
|Editing by||Kenji Yamashita|
Recorded Picture Company
|Distributed by||Toho Company (Japan)
Artificial Eye (UK)
Magnet Releasing (USA)
|Running time||141 minutes
126 minutes (International version)
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 a time of peace and in the final years of samurai power. The sadistic younger brother of the current Shogun, Lord Matsudaira Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki), rapes and kills at will. Sir Doi Toshitsura (Mikijiro Hira), a senior government official, realizes the situation will become more dangerous after Naritsugu ascends to a higher political position. After a wronged party publicly commits seppuku as a way of showing disdain for Lord Naritsugu, Sir Doi seeks out a trusted older samurai, Shinzaemon, a battle-hardened warrior who served under the former shogun, and secretly hires him to assassinate Naritsugu. However, men loyal to Naritsugu soon get wind of Sir Doi's plot, and move into action. By spying on Doi's meetings, they discover he has hired Shinazaemon.
Meanwhile, Shinzaemon gathers 11 more samurai, whom Sir Doi knows can be trusted and are the strongest he knows, including Shinzaemon's nephew Shinroukuro. The 12 plan to ambush Naritsugu on his long journey home from Edo. Before they leave, members of the group are attacked by retainers of Hanbei (Masachika Ichimura), an old sparring partner of Shinzaemon and loyal subject of Naritsugu.
In order to block Naritsugu's passage, several of the assassins are sent to buy the help of a town and force him to reroute through a remote village. Shinzaemon and the others ride urgently towards the village they have chosen for the battle. On the way, they encounter a few of Naritsugu's hired thugs, meant to slow them down while Naritsugu journeys home; they kill the thugs easily. They decide to travel stealthily through the mountains, where they meet a hunter named Kiga Koyata who leads them off the mountain and they adopt him as the thirteenth assassin. He helps them find the village they have chosen for the conflict, and they are reunited with their comrades. They take the village over and convert it into an elaborate trap with many camouflaged fortifications. As they wait, one of the assassins out scouting the area returns with bad news; he claims that Naritsugu and his men have vanished after turning back from the blocked town. Some assassins plead with Shinzaemon to track down Naritsugu, but Shinzaemon who is always thinking ahead, tells them to wait it out; it's hard for Naritsugu and his 70 guards to hide easily. Therefore they must believe that their luck will hold out.
The next morning the assassins discover that Naritsugu is heading toward the village but with almost two hundred men - far more than the number they initially expected. Nonetheless, Shinzaemon tells the assassins that the bigger the enemy the better, and they must continue their mission. A lengthy battle follows, with Naritsugu and his guards trapped inside the village and attacked by the assassins with arrows, explosives, knives, and swords – with the exception of Koyata, who fights with rocks in slings. Naritsugu, who has led a life of luxury, is enthralled and excited by the violence, claiming it's the most fun he has had and wondering if it was like this during the wars of the Sengoku period.
The assassins fall one by one as they inflict devastating casualties on the guards until there is a one-to-one sword fight between Shinzaemon and Hanbei, Naritsugu's remaining defender. As they are fighting on natural terrain and not in a dojo, Shinzaemon adapts to the environment and triumphs. He approaches Naritsugu, who is finally unprotected. Shinzaemon tells Naritsugu that he is acting for the people, but Naritsugu tells him that both the people and Samurai have only one purpose and that is to serve their lord. Shizaemon tells Naritsugu that lords can't live without the support of the people, and that if a lord abuses his powers, the people will rise against him. Enraged, Naritsugu stabs him in the abdomen, and Shinzaemon returns the thrust. Both are mortally wounded. Naritsugu crawls in the mud, experiencing fear and pain for the first time. He thanks Shinzaemon in his own way for showing him how the world can be so different from the luxuries he was bored with. Shinzaemon decapitates Naritsugu in a coup de grâce.
Shinzaemon collapses, telling his nephew Shinrokurô that their mission is finished and he is released from his duty. After telling Shinrokurô that he is deemed worthy as a Samurai and that he must live his life as he sees fit, Shinzaemon dies. As Shinrokurō wanders through the carnage he discovers the hunter Koyata standing amid the chaos. Despite being impaled through the neck earlier by Naritsugu, Koyata has made what appears to be a miraculous recovery. Shinrokurō tells him that Naritusugu is dead and that now their mission is over. An epilogue states that the Shogun and the government covered up what really occurred, announcing that Naritsugu died of illness. 23 years later, the Shogunate falls and opens way for the Meiji Era.
The 13 assassins
- Shimada Shinzaemon (Kōji Yakusho) – The leader of the group, a war weary, decorated samurai of the former shogun who is hired to carry out the mission. He is the 11th and final one to die during the finale.
- 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 6th to die after numerous wounds.
- 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 5th to die after blowing himself up.
- 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 fierce ronin, of unmatched skill and prowess 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) – Nephew to Shinzaemon, who has strayed from the ways of the samurai to become a gambler and a womanizer but joins the mission to redeem himself. He lives in the end.
- 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. He is also the only one who fights for money rather than the mission to assassinate Naritsugu.
- Kiga Koyata (Yūsuke Iseya) – A hunter who is found suspended in a cage in the forest as a punishment for pursuing his boss's wife and aids the assassins in finding a route to Ochiai as well as in combating the enemy samurai. Like Shinrokuro he lives in the end, surviving a short sword through the throat: it is suggested that he is a yōkai or demon.
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 July 5, 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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- Official website
- Official website (UK)
- Review Review of the film & Blu-ray at Vista Records
- 13 Assassins at the Internet Movie Database