13 ASSASSINS (Jusan-nin no shikaku) (2010)

In Japanese with English Subtitles
Genre: Action/Drama
Director: Takashi Miike
Cast: Koji Yakusho, Takayuki Yamada, Yuseke Iseya, Goro Inagaki, Masachika Ichimura, Mikijiro Hira, Hiroki Matsukata, Ikki Sawamura, Arata Furuta, Tsuyoshi Ihara
RunTime: 2 hrs 21 mins
Released By: Shaw
Rating: NC-16 (Some Violence & Sexual Scenes)
Official Website: http://13assassins.jp/index.html

Opening Day: 23 June 2011

Synopsis: Peaceful times in feudal Japan are threatened by the bloody rise to power of cruel Lord Naritsugu. Above the law because he is the Shogun’s brother, the sadistic young Lord rapes and kills at whim.

Distressed by the Lord’s murderous rampage, top Shogun official Sir Doi secretly calls on esteemed samurai Shinzaemon Shimada to assassinate the evil Naritsugu. Outraged on Lord Naritsugu’s vile acts, noble Shinzaemon willingly accepts the dangerous mission.

Shizaemon gathers an elite group of samurai, each with their own deadly skill, including his gambling nephew Shintokuro and devoted ronin Hirayama, Together they plot to ambush Lord Naritsugu on his annual journey home from Edo. The courageous samurai know it’s a suicide mission because the Lord Naritsugu is closely protected by a lethal entourage led by ruthless Hanbei, Shinzaemon’s longtime nemesis.

After weeks of training and preparation, SHinzaemon and his samurai ride stealthily through the mountains. On their perilous journey, they recruit a wild young mountain man, Koyata. The skilled group then takes over a small village, transforming it into an intricate death trap to snare Lord Naritsugu.

But when the Lord finally arrives, Shinzaemon and his loyal samurai discover they are outnumbered fifteen to one. The day has come for our fearless assassins to face death in a bloody showdown, a monumental battle of fiery explosions, showers of arrows and clashing swords.

Movie Review:

As much as we hate to admit, violence is entertaining. Why else would the WWE be so popular? One might even agree that violence is in itself, entertainment. Witnessing the madness and chaos that are involved in an act of physical violence is both thrilling and arresting simply because they are out of place in most of our 9-5, middle-class, democratically-governed realities. In other words, through it we find escapism.  Not only that, appealing to the cavemen (and cavewomen) in us all, there is a sense of liberation too in watching violence.

When a movie opens with a realistic cringe-inducing scene of a man performing the infamous hara-kiri or self-disembowelment, you know that you are in for a treat. Despite the historical and cultural contexts which might be unfamiliar to some, the epic film stays dedicated to engage the audience. With scenes involving exploding bodies followed by showers of blood (yes, they do have bombs during the feudal times),  hacked limbs and rolling heads, the explicit no-holds-barred violence is intended to surprise yet fascinate the audience with morbid, unthinkable gore that are not out of place in contemporary horror  movies like the Saw franchise.

At the heart of all the madness in this film is the evil Lord Naritsugu. Used to not hearing no to every destructive whim and fancy thanks to his ties to the shogunate, he develops a nihilistic complex that is so extreme that the only sane reaction would be nervous laughter. Well, at least that was what the writer found herself doing. Without giving away the details, the lord rapes, tortures and kills just for kicks. He even eats a whole fish with his face buried in it. Ermm, yeah.  Set to take over the reins of feudal Japan, he worries all those who still believe in hope and justice. Enter the 13 Assassins – a band of samurais who are keen on posing a much-delayed challenge to the insane lord with the intention of defeating him.

One should be wary to simply label the film as a mindless samurai bloodfest. Coupled with a classic good versus evil plot are insights into a world that is exclusive to those who are born in it. Directed by Takashi Miike who is probably most well-known for his ultraviolent controversial film Ichi the Killer, 13 assassins serves to explore with meaning the ways of the samurai. In an age where samurai heroics are dying and kept strictly to the dojo, the audience is posed with questions regarding the strict nature of the samurai lifestyle and its complex repercussions to society and the samurai himself. Known for their loyalty to their cause, the film asks if a good samurai can still be respected for his loyalty even if his cause is bad.

Spanning two hours, the film takes its time to deliver both a subtext-filled story and entertainment to the audience. And from that, you should take the cue to prepare yourselves for a 45 minute long battle scene that is nothing short of epic.

Movie Rating:

 (A must-see for fanboys and fangirls of epic gore)

Reviewed by Siti Nursyafiqa

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