Japanese film poster
|Directed by||Takashi Miike|
|Produced by||Toshiaki Nakazawa
|Screenplay by||Daisuke Tengan|
|Story by||Shōichirō Ikemiya|
Matsumoto Kōshirō IX
|Music by||Kōji Endō|
|Edited by||Kenji Yamashita|
|Distributed by||Toho (Japan)
Artificial Eye (UK)
13 Assassins (Japanese: 十三人の刺客 romaji: Jūsannin no Shikaku?) is a 2010 Japanese jidaigeki (period drama) film directed by Takashi Miike. The screenplay was written by Daisuke Tengan. The film is a remake of Eiichi Kudo’s 1963 black-and-white Japanese film of the same name, Jûsan-nin no shikaku. A samurai epic with a loose historical basis, the film was produced by Toshiaki Nakazawa, who also produced the 2009 winner of Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film Departures.
The film stars Koji Yakusho, whose credits include Memoirs of a Geisha and Shall We Dance, along with Takayuki Yamada, Sōsuke Takaoka, Hiroki Matsukata, and Kazuki Namioka. It is the third film in which Yamada and Takaoka co-starred, the first two being Crows Zero and Crows Zero 2, both directed by Miike. It was nominated for Best Film at the 34th Japan Academy Prize.
In Japan of the 1840s, as the Tokugawa Shogunate faces extinction, a corrupt lord named Matsudaira Naritsugu of Akashi freely rapes, tortures, and murders his own citizens. He is protected because the Shogun is his half-brother. However, the Justice Minister realizes the threat posed if Naritsugu should further ascend, and hires a trusted older Samurai, Shinzaemon, to ambush and murder Naritsugu. Unfortunately, the conversation is overheard by the Samurai Hanbei, a childhood friend of Shinzaemon who has persisted in loyalty toward Naritsugu.
Shinzaemon gathers 11 more Samurai to be his Assassins, among them his own nephew Shinroukuro, and comes up with the plan of ambushing Naritsugu on his official journey from Edo back to Akashi. With the legal authority and financial assistance of the Justice Minister, the Assassins empty out the small town of Ochiai and build numerous traps and fortifications inside of it. Meanwhile, a minor lord whose daughter-in-law was raped and whose only son was murdered by Naritsugu obstructs the official highway, guaranteeing that Naritsugu must travel the Ochiai route.
Around this time, the Assassins are on the road when they are ambushed by Ronins paid off by Hanbei. They travel through the mountains for cover but get lost in the forest. In the process they encounter a hunter named Kiga Koyata, who guides them out of the forest and is adopted by them as the 13th Assassin.
After the Assassins arrive at Ochiai, they discover Naritsugu and his entourage have disappeared. When Naritsugu finally arrives at Ochiai, it is discovered that he has been reinforced. Instead of facing 70 soldiers, the Assassins must fight through 200. A lengthy battle follows with Naritsugu and the soldiers becoming boxed inside the village, and straightaway being assaulted with arrows, gunpowder, spears, and swords, along with Koyata who slings rocks. Naritsugu thinks that the carnage is entertaining, telling Hanbei that upon becoming counsel to the Shogun he shall bring back the civil wars of the Sengoku period.
One by one the Assassins are killed, but not before they inflict heavy casualties on the Naritsugu's force. Naritsugu and Hanbei manage to run out of the village, but are cornered by Shinzaemon and Shinrokuro. After Shinzaemon kills Hanbei, he allows Naritsugu to mortally wound him, ensuring he will die a warrior's death. Shinzaemon then stabs Naritsugu and watches him crawl through the mud, suffering pain for the first time in his life, before decapitating him.
The battle being over, Shinrokuro wanders through the wreckage and piled up bodies. He meets Koyata, who was stabbed in the neck by Naritsugu but somehow became healed. An epilogue states that in 1844 May, the Shogun and his government covered up what really happened, announcing that Naritsugu died on that journey from illness. Twenty-three years later, the Tokugawa Shogunate would be overthrown in favor of 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.
- Kuranaga Saheita (Hiroki Matsukata) – Second in command to Shinzaemon, another veteran samurai who volunteers his best and most trusted students to join the group.
- Hioki Yasokichi (Sōsuke Takaoka) – A highly skilled samurai from Kuranaga's dojo.
- Ōtake Mosuke (Seiji Rokkaku) – A plump-faced samurai with a jovial demeanor, but remains a tenacious fighter.
- Horii Yahachi (Kōen Kondō) – A skilled samurai from Kuranaga's dojo who trained with Gennai in the use of explosives.
- Higuchi Gennai (Yūma Ishigaki) – Horii's demolition partner, a tough and skilled samurai who trained with Yahachi in the use of explosives.
- Mitsuhashi Gunjirō (Ikki Sawamura) – Another samurai from Kuranaga's dojo who prepares Ochiai to trap their victim.
- Hirayama Kujūrō (Tsuyoshi Ihara) – A ronin of unmatched swordsmanship, who trained under Shinzaemon.
- Ogura Shōujirō (Masataka Kubota) – A young samurai disciple of Hirayama, untested in battle but with unwavering devotion and skills to match.
- 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.
- Ishizuka Rihei (Kazuki Namioka) – A skilled and courageous samurai who joined the mission with Sahara.
- Sahara Heizō (Arata Furuta) – An elder ronin, battle scarred and hardened, who favors the yari (spear) over the katana (sword).
- 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.
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 was met with acclaim from critics 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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