×

13 Assassins

Takashi Miike is in top slashtastic form with this samurai drama.

With:
With: Koji Yakusho, Takayuki Yamada, Yusuke Iseya, Goro Inagaki, Masachika Ichimura, Mikijiro Hira, Hiroki Matsukata, Ikki Sawamura, Arata Furuta, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Masataka Kubota, Sousuke Takaoka, Seiji Rokkaku, Koen Kondo, Yuma Ishigaki, Kazuki Namioka, Kazue Fukiishi, Koshiro Matsumoto, Mitsuki Tanimura, Takumi Saito, Shinnosuke Abe, Masaaki Uchino, Ken Mitsuishi, Ittoku Kishibe.

Protean, prolific and wildly erratic Japanese helmer Takashi Miike is in top, slashtastic form with his latest, samurai drama “13 Assassins,” a remake of a 1963 film of the same name by Eichi Kudo. Made on a bigger budget and with more care than he often devotes to his work, this at first slow-moving and then wildly kinetic actioner possesses a cool classicism that will appeal to offshore auds as well as those at home, where the major name cast should help the pic run rampant at the domestic B.O. on its Sept. 25 bow.

Set around 1844, when the feudal Shogunate still ruled Japan, the action starts with an attention-grabbing sequence showing a nobleman (Masaaki Uchino) committing hara-kari. It’s explained that his ritual suicide was sparked by shame over fact that his daughter was raped and murdered by Lord Naritsugu Matsudaira (smoothly heinous Goro Inagaki), the current Shogun’s brother, whose bloodlust — and just plain lust — seems to know no bounds.

Deciding that enough’s enough, high-ranking Shogun official Sir Doi (Mikijiro Hira) hires respected samurai Shinzaemon Shimada (Koji Yakusho, a local household name better known offshore for “Babel” and “Memoirs of a Geisha”) to assassinate Naritsugu.

Slightly draggy middle act focuses on Shinzaemon preparing a team of, natch, 13 assassins to slay the baddie and his retinue — which means the avengers will come up against Shinzaemon’s old friend, now Naritsugu’s right-hand samurai, Hanbei Kitou (Masachika Ichimura).

Some of Shinzaemon’s band of brothers are given more prominence than others, like his gambling-addicted nephew, Shinrokuro (Takayuki Yamada), and his sturdy, fiercely loyal apprentice, Hirayama (Tsuyoshi Ihara). There’s also scruffy oldster Sahara (Arata Furuta), who asks for payment upfront (if you mapped the cast of “Ocean’s Eleven” on this, he’d be Elliott Gould), and rangy non-samurai Koyata (Takayuki Yamada, providing comic relief), who couldn’t give a damn about honor but is up for a good scrap.

Pic’s last 45 minutes or so basically offers one long battle scene as Shinzaemon and Naritsugu’s posses square off in a town loaded with booby traps set by Shinzaemon’s crew to even the 200-13 odds. Heads literally roll, but considering Miike’s reputation for extreme gore, the violence is largely restrained. Swordplay throughout is gracefully executed, with Miike and editor Kenji Yamashita striking a judicious balance between closeups and long shots. Indeed, the film’s staging makes consistent logical sense, providing a clear idea of what’s going on where and who’s who.

Most welcome of all, Miike proves here he can play it straight when he wants to, and while there’s just enough humor to leaven the proceedings (especially when things are at their grimmest, often courtesy of the deliciously, near-satanically evil Naritsugu), there’s no winking at the audience or any attempt to subvert the genre. That said, the script interjects a contempo sensibility by raising issue with the strict samurai code that calls for unconditional obedience to masters, even at the cost of what’s best for the nation. There are obvious nods to Kurosawa, but also to more contempo genre fare. Offshore auds may struggle somewhat to keep up with the earlier reels’ copious discussions of propriety and allegiance, which play such a major role in shaping events.

Terrific, character-defining costumes by Kazuhiro Sawataishi; a rousing, propulsive score by regular Miike-collaborator Koji Endo; and great, vivid sound work, especially from the pic’s Foley artists to suggest the sound of sliced flesh, round out a tip-top tech package. The version to be released in Japan will be 20 minutes longer, nearly all of it set in a bordello that’s visited the night before the battle; producers apparently felt this slowed the pic down too much, and cut it for the international version shown in Venice.

Popular on Variety

13 Assassins

Japan-U.K.

Production: A Sedic Intl., Recorded Picture Co. production, in association with TV Asahi Corp., Toho Co., Dentsu, Sedic Deux, Rakueisha. (International sales: Hanway Films, London; Toho Co., Tokyo.) Produced by Michihiko Umezawa, Minami Ichikawa, Toichiro Shiraishi, Takahiro Ohno, Hirotsugu Yoshida, Masaaki Ujo. Executive producers, Toshiaki Nakazawa, Jeremy Thomas, Takashi Hirajo. Co-producers, Kauomi Suzaki, Hisashi Usui. Directed by Takashi Miike. Screenplay, Daisuke Tengen, based on a story by Shoichirou Ikemiya.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Nobuyasu Kita; editor, Kenji Yamashita; music, Koji Endo; art director, Yuji Hayashida; set decorator, Akira Sakamoto, Osamu Kubota; costume designer, Kazuhiro Sawataishi; sound (Dolby Digital), Jun Nakamura; stunt coordinator, Keiji Tsujii; CGI producer, Misako Saka; assistant directors, Kimiyoshi Adachi, Takuma Yoshimi; casting, Yuriko Kitada. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (competing), Sept. 8, 2010. (Also in Toronto Film Festival -- Masters, London Film Festival.) Running time: 125 MIN.

With: With: Koji Yakusho, Takayuki Yamada, Yusuke Iseya, Goro Inagaki, Masachika Ichimura, Mikijiro Hira, Hiroki Matsukata, Ikki Sawamura, Arata Furuta, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Masataka Kubota, Sousuke Takaoka, Seiji Rokkaku, Koen Kondo, Yuma Ishigaki, Kazuki Namioka, Kazue Fukiishi, Koshiro Matsumoto, Mitsuki Tanimura, Takumi Saito, Shinnosuke Abe, Masaaki Uchino, Ken Mitsuishi, Ittoku Kishibe.With: Koji Yakusho, Takayuki Yamada, Yusuke Iseya, Goro Inagaki, Masachika Ichimura, Mikijiro Hira, Hiroki Matsukata, Ikki Sawamura, Arata Furuta, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Masataka Kubota, Sousuke Takaoka, Seiji Rokkaku, Koen Kondo, Yuma Ishigaki, Kazuki Namioka, Kazue Fukiishi, Koshiro Matsumoto, Mitsuki Tanimura, Takumi Saito, Shinnosuke Abe, Masaaki Uchino, Ken Mitsuishi, Ittoku Kishibe.

More Film

  • Samuel-W.-Gelfman

    Samuel Gelfman, Roger Corman Film Producer, Dies at 88

    Samuel Gelfman, a New York producer known for his work on Roger Corman’s “Caged Heat,” “Cockfighter” and “Cannonball!,” died Thursday morning at UCLA Hospital in Westwood following complications from heart and respiratory disease, his son Peter Gelfman confirmed. He was 88. Gelfman was born in Brooklyn, New York and was raised in Caldwell New Jersey [...]

  • Margot Robbie stars in ONCE UPON

    Box Office: 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' Pulls Ahead of 'Hobbs & Shaw' Overseas

    Sony’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” might not have hit No. 1 in North America, but Quentin Tarantino’s latest film is leading the way at the international box office, where it collected $53.7 million from 46 markets. That marks the best foreign opening of Tarantino’s career, coming in ahead of 2012’s “Django Unchained.” “Once [...]

  • Good Boys Movie

    Box Office: 'Good Boys' Leads Crowded Weekend With $21 Million

    The Bean Bag Boys, the self-appointed nickname for the trio of best friends in Universal’s “Good Boys,” are conquering much more than sixth grade. They are also leading the domestic box office, exceeding expectations and collecting $21 million on opening weekend. “Good Boys,” which screened at 3,204 North American theaters, is a much-needed win for [...]

  • Amanda Awards

    ‘Out Stealing Horses’ Tops Norway’s 2019 Amanda Awards

    HAUGESUND, Norway —  Hans Petter Moland’s sweeping literary adaptation “Out Stealing Horses” put in a dominant showing at Norway’s Amanda Awards on Saturday night, placing first with a collected five awards, including best Norwegian film. Celebrating its 35th edition this year, the Norwegian industry’s top film prize helped kick off the Haugesund Film Festival and [...]

  • Editorial use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    Richard Williams, 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' Animator, Dies at 86

    Renowned animator Richard Williams, best known for his work on “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” died Friday at his home in Bristol, England, Variety has confirmed. He was 86. Williams was a distinguished animator, director, producer, author and teacher whose work has garnered three Oscars and three BAFTA Awards. In addition to his groundbreaking work as [...]

  • Instinct

    Locarno Film Review: 'Instinct'

    Now that “Game of Thrones” has finally reached its conclusion, releasing its gifted international ensemble into the casting wilds, will Hollywood remember just what it has in Carice van Houten? It’s not that the statuesque Dutch thesp hasn’t been consistently employed since her startling 2006 breakout in Paul Verhoeven’s “Black Book,” or even that she’s [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content