13 Assassins

13 Assassins

Directed by: Takashi Miike
126 minutes

New England Premiere

Japanese with English subtitles

2011 Audience Award Winner

Few filmmakers possess the reputation of Takashi Miike (ICHI THE KILLER, HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS). Astonishingly prolific (he’s made over 80 films in the last 20 years), he creates works noted for their brutality, dark examination of humanity, forays into the grotesque and unexpected, and brilliant expressions of lunacy.

In 13 ASSASSINS, the sadistic Lord Naritsugu is appointed to be next in line for the shogunate, which inspires him to go on a senseless, sociopathic course of torture, rape, and murder. The established political code ensures that his despicable acts remain unchallenged and unpunished. To prevent Naritsugu from achieving full power, the current shogun covertly has his aging vassal engage respected samurai Shimada Shinzaemon (Yakusho Koji) to eliminate the lord and restore the peace. To combat the 200 bodyguards who protect Naritsugu, Shimada recruits 12 men and moves into a strategic position in the small town of Ochlai to ambush the traveling lord. As one would expect in a jidaigeki (a period piece set in feudal Japan), these forces clash. What transpires is one of the most epic battles ever committed to celluloid.

Although 13 ASSASSINS is technically a retelling of Kudo Eichi’s 1963 film with the same title, Miike recontextualizes the genre, examining it through a modern lens; the result is one of his most complete and accessible works. This version of a classic revenge film deftly questions the underlying conventions of a society that allows these vicious acts and subverts the concept of honor itself. For any “classic Miike” fans who may fear that this means he’s gone soft, be assured that is not the case: this film’s description can be condensed into two words—total massacre.

—Callista Burns