Your weekly streaming pick is one of the most impactful movies I’ve watched in a long time. Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins is a gritty Samurai movie. The movie goes above and beyond to tell a simple story in an exceptional way.
1844. Japan is a collection of clans. A rising Lord, Naritsugu Matsudaira (Goro Inagaki) flexes his power by being unnaturally cruel to anyone who catches his eye. Rape, murder, dishonor, and torture are regular occurrences. This sadistic man edges ever closer to his half-brother who is also a Shogun leader.
It becomes clear something has to be done when a clan leader kills himself. Sir Doi (Mikijiro Hira), the leader of the Akashi Clan, is unable to act himself. Doi pleads with Shinza (Koji Yakusho), a Samurai, to kill Naritsugu before he can do more damage. Shinza recruits noble Samurai to carry out the mission.
13 Assassins was released in 2010 but carries all the classic elements of a Samurai movie. It feels like a movie Akira Kurosawa would not only have enjoyed, but may have made himself. The direction is strong, steady, and deliberate. The camera doesn’t move much. Until the final confrontation much of the movie is understated. Even during depictions of Naritsugu’s heinous acts the movie feels understated.
13 Assassins is currently streaming on Netflix
13 Assassins is a beautifully shot slow burn. The scenes hang on longer than a typical modern movie. Many shots would be left on the cutting room floor. That is, if Miike wanted something closer to Kill Bill and less like 1954’s Seven Samurai. The modern-classic styling is completed by a bare-minimum soundtrack. The soundtrack is comprised of period instruments and styling. Nothing about the creation or execution of the movie will take you out of 1844 Feudal Japan.
Takashi Miike is a name you’ll know if you’ve ever been a fan of Japanese cinema. Miike has directed over 100 films of varying quality. He got famous with over the top gore, violence, and horror. The Dead or Alive series, Audition, and Ichi the Killer to name a few. Going into 13 Assassins Miike has learned some constraint. While the movie delivers on the macabre it never feels over the top or out of place. Miike also constructed one of the (if not the) longest fight scenes ever. Ever, in the history of cinema. The front half of the movie is meticulously paced putting all the pieces in play. The second half is the most brutally electric battles ever shot. To take it a step further its all shot with real people and practical effects.
13 Assassins is an astonishing accomplishment. A modern movie made like a classic that becomes an instant classic in the Samurai genre.