Sunday, August 19, 2012

13 Assassins – the Japanese Action Film that cuts through the Mainstream Movie Mediocrity

Sometimes there is no way out and you only have two choices to make, which is you either allow yourself to be trampled on or fight back with everything that you’ve got. That’s exactly what happened to the 13 samurai warriors back in 1840’s Japan when the son of a former Shogun decided that everything is meaningless compared to his glorious existence. The diplomacy and peace was waning away and the honorable society that the samurais have fought and died for will soon be thrown out of control by this arrogant young leader named Lord Matsudaira Naritsugu (Gorô Inagaki).

While there are a lot of high-octane action/adventure movies that I anticipated to come out back in 2010, this struck me as a surprise because it had all the necessary elements in making a good film. You may find that the theme also seems common to almost all “samurai” based movies in Japan; however, this one has that kind of appeal that we can still relate to even in our modern era. We simply want to live a quiet and peaceful life and exercise our right as free individuals; anyone who thinks otherwise is a tyrant and is in opposition to basic civil liberties. Even then basic human rights were highly regarded by everyone especially those who held important positions in the government.

At the turn of the century when progress is becoming unstoppable in Japan as it joins the free world of trade and commerce, the old ways were disappearing including the samurais. The sociopathic Lord Matsudaira Naritsugu sought to test his power and birthright upon his subjects by raping women and slaughtering families who have even the slightest disdain on him. The clan leader of samurais committed seppuku for the disgrace his family endured under the hands of Lord Naritsugu. It turns out that his daughter in law was raped by Naritsugu and her husband (the clan leader’s son who also served under Naritsugu) were both murdered by the same guy.

The outcry for justice has reached beyond heaven and Sir Doi Toshitsura who witnessed all of this could no longer keep his conscience at bay. He decided to meet with Shinazaemon who is a somewhat retired samurai, mostly because his skills were no longer needed in that time. Shinazaemon still lives by the old samurai code and was more than willing to die a glorious death in the battlefield as a samurai warrior, and when Sir Doi offered him the job to assassinate Lord Naritsugu he was shaking and trembling with delight. He didn’t even cared about the money offered to him all he cared about is to have his moment of truth in the battlefield. 

Unfortunately, Hanbei who is the right hand man of Naritsugu learned of the plot to kill the young Lord and soon moved to action himself to do all he can in order to protect his master. Hanbei is a good man but his loyalty is severely misplaced and because of this he always turns a blind eye on all of Naritsugu's wrong doings. But Hanbei was taken aback when he realized the identity of this would-be assassin was Shinazaemon, a former classmate and trainee at the samurai dojo that he went to study also. He knows his enemy is not only a skilled samurai but an excellent battle strategist. Even knowing who he was about to face Hanbei did not feel confident and he ordered more men to protect their Lord.

Shinazaemon on the other hand recruited as many samurai warriors as he could, he hand-picked the men and chose not only on the merits of their skill with the sword but their hatred for Lord Naritsugu as well. He enlisted his nephew Shinrouko (Takayuki Yamada), and 10 other warriors including Kiga Koyata (Yûsuke Iseya), a local hunter in the forest who seemed more like an angel sent by the gods to aid them, than a human being because he was the only one left unharmed in the aftermath of the battle – all this despite receiving several sword slashes and a forward sword thrust to his throat. Unbelievable!

They took the opportunity to make their move on Naritsugu during one of his trips to the parliament in Kyoto, and they setup a trap in a small village that Shinazaemon knew his caravan would take with no other options as they travel. Shinazaemon also bribed the dishonored clan whose leader had previously committed seppuku to block Naritsugu’s path along their territory, because their town happens to guard a road commonly used by everyone to travel through the land. Now the inevitable comes but to Shinazaemon’s surprise Naritsugu was travelling with 200 armed guards and not 70 as previously reported. Nonetheless, Shinazaemon was prepared and he kept encouraging his 12 warriors who today must take on the role of assassins to give justice to those whom Naritsugu denied.

The battle started with a couple of ambushes with Shinazaemon using explosives and other tricks that turned the small village into a virtual maze of nightmare for Naritsugu and his horde. The 13 assassins tried their best to cut down the number of the opposing force so that they could move in for the kill on their target, which was Naritsugu. It took all of their wits, strength, sweat and blood to be able to do that but in the end Shinazaemon accomplished his mission by beheading Naritsugu and his dream of a glorious death in battle leaving only his nephew Shinrouko and the mysterious hunter Koyata as the survivors.

If you’re looking for a sword-slashing and blood-spilling action flick, then I highly recommend this film – it’s far better than those half-cooked B or C films out there.

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