13 Assassins played in Toronto and Fantastic Fest. I saw it in SXSW, but it took me until ActionFest to finally review it. I knew when I saw it this was something special, but it kind of took me two viewings to process it all.
Lord Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki) is torturing his servants, shooting arrows into kids and amputating women. Someone’s got to take this guy down. It’s up to lord Shinzaemon (Koji Yakusho) to assemble a team of samurai. He’s got 13, Naritsugu has 200, so it’s a samurai 300 with better action and tougher odds if you do the math.
The big battle is what everyone is going to remember about 13 Assassins and it is in essence the movie. For 30 straight minutes, Shinzaemon’s assassins plan comes together and tears apart the opposing army of 200. With a booby trapped stronghold, strategic tactics and badas fighting, the film’s battle is one for the cinematic ages.
At one point they set bulls on fire and send them trampling after the enemy. This is obviously a CGI effect, because you can’t light a bull on fire and then expect him to hit his mark. Even though it looks like an effect, the idea is so awesome it’s worth showing on film. That may be inhumane of the heroes too, but it’s awesome.
Hioki (Sosuke Takaoka) is the super badass of the 13. Koyata (Yusuke Iseya) is the 13th they pick up on the road, a hunter who twirls some rocks as a cool counterpoint to the other 12 swordsmen. You get to know each character through scenes of training and backstory, but they distinguish themselves the most during the battle.
Even though 13 Assassins builds up to a conclusion that totally overshadows everything else, you want to spend two hours in this world and watch them plan. Takashi Miike creates the tone of Kurosawa with blood and contact. I got a little lost in the clans and politics but the characters and moments are universal.
It’s all about the little details, like a kid peeing in the street to punctuate the tension. The preparations and initial battles set a stage. A sword gets stuck in the samurai’s enemy. Duels interest other duels. 13 Assassins is an epic masterpiece.