interested, and adept at choreographing the type of large-scale action — “TOTAL MASSACRE,” in the scrawled demand of a mutilated victim — associated with such directors as Kurosawa and Peckinpah.
Set in 1844, about two decades before Feudal Japan evolved into a centralized empire, “13 Assassins” (a remake of a 1963 Japanese film) has a large cast but a simple story, as Shinzaemon (Koji Yakusho), an aging samurai, is hired in secret by a government official to assassinate the sadistic Lord Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki), a rapist and murderer who cannot be removed from power by conventional means without threatening the authority of the shogun system.
Shinzaemon realizes he likely will fail, because Naritsugu is protected by a literal army of soldiers. Even so, he relishes the assignment: “How fate smiles on me. As a samurai in this era of peace, I’ve been wishing for a noble death.”
Shinzaemon recruits a crew of fighters that numbers 13 when it is joined by an uncouth mountain man (Yusuke Iseya), armed only with a sling, who offers a critique of his noble companions — and of the code-of-duty genre he finds himself occupying — when he comments: “Do only samurai matter in this world?”
Few of the heroes in this “Dirty Baker’s Dozen” have distinctive personalities, so their deaths lack impact, even as we appreciate the spectacle. Miike seems more invested in the depiction of the perversities of Naritsugu, who was “born with a vicious nature” and a “lust for flesh and dishonorable conduct.” In one scene, the evil lord uses living people for bow-and-arrow target practice.
In Japanese with English subtitles, “13 Assassins” is exclusively at Malco’s Ridgeway Four.
— John Beifuss: 529-2394
Yusuke Iseya and Takayuki Yamada are two of the “13 Assassins,” directed by Japan’s prolific Takashi Miike.