13 Assassins, Blu-ray (2011)
Director: Takashi Miike
Starring: Koji Yakusho
Studio: Asahi Corp./Toho/Magnolia Home Entertainment/Magnet
Video: 2.40:1 anamorphic/enhanced 1080p HD color
Audio: Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio, Dolby 2.0
Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Japanese TV interview with Takashi Miike, Deleted scenes, Theatrical trailer, Digital copy on 2nd disc
Length: 125 minutes
A terrific old-fashioned samurai sword-crossing epic from a director who usually does more cutting-edge contemporary material. It is set towards the end of Japan’s feudal period, when there hadn’t been any serious warfare for some time. A thoroughly sadistic lord who is related to the present Shogun must be brought down without anything reflecting on the honor or prestige of the Shogun and the government. A group of a dozen elite samurai who haven’t been asked to do much actual samurai work lately are enlisted by a crack samurai leader into offering up their lives to assassinate the lord in question before he ascends the throne in the near future.
The beginning of the film is devoted to the leader being advised of the situation by a politician from the evil prince’s retinue – a former friend, and then assembling the dozen samurai. They add the 13th member at the last minute, just before the big battle in a little village thru which the evil price will have to pass. The 13th is not a samurai but a wild mountain man who hunts game and seems indestructible. (The deleted scenes show his sexual prowess to be quite extraordinary; they wisely chose to edit that out of the final film.) The evilness of the pretender to the throne and therefore the rightfulness of his planned assassination is a bit overdone.
The actual battle in the village takes up 50 minutes of the film and is awesome. The band of committed assassins learn that the expected group of 70 or soldiers of the prince will actually number about 200 and there is little hope of their victory. At this time in the 1840s they appear to have access to explosives but not to firearms. There is plenty of sword-crossing, blood and guts. In a way the story is a sort of period version of Seven Samurai. The cinematography is excellent, although a couple of the CGI effects could have been somewhat more realistic. The Blu-ray transfer looks highly detailed and with an involving surround track. There is no music during the long battle – just very realistic sounds of the fighting. The interview with Miike is worth viewing.
— John Sunier