Thursday, September 1, 2011

13 Assassins [2010]

The Shogun’s younger brother is an evil man with hate and cruelty in his heart. When the depth of his evil becomes apparent to a senior government official he hires the samurai Shinzaemon to assassinate him before he can ascend in power. Shinzaemon goes on recruit 11 more samurai for the mission – who are joined on their journey by a hunter – making it the tale of the 13 assassins.

This is a remake of a film of the same name and though I can’t find the original to rent and compare – it seems moot as it’s the exact plot of SEVEN SAMURAI – with the main differences being the number of characters – and the threat is from the government rather than bandits. Let me remind you – Rule #1 – originality is overrated. You’ve seen this movie before – I promise you – but the story is compelling never-the-less.

Given the nature of the heroes of this film are samurai – and samurai are not normally known for being expressive – that leads to what can be perceived as little character development – that perception is mostly reality. This lack of character development though – does not lead to any less desire to wanting to see them succeed with every ounce of your being. The majority of the real character depth is with the villain – and he is such a wonderfully evil villain. With his apparent evil and condescending above the law nature – you wouldn’t care if smurfs were after him – as long as someone was.

The villain’s character development is a major triumph for this film – because if you consider giving 13 characters a personal sense of purpose – goals – motivations – and the like would be exhausting and make the film 4 hours long – much like SEVEN SAMURAI (which is one of my top 5 favorite films of all time – so I’m not knocking it). But if you give the bulk of the character development to the villain – you come to accept the assassins as being in the right even if you don’t know them – and it makes each of their deaths equally sad.

The film – in the cut that was released to Blu-Ray in America is roughly 2 hours – with the final 50 minutes of the film being essentially a bloodbath. Not once through the final battle did I think that it was taking too long or getting boring. I saw it as less of an extended action scene and more of a dramatic scene that kept me engaged throughout. There was no music playing over the bulk of the battle – as to not falsify the emotion and give you the traditional movie triggers to tell you to care. The clangs of the swords, the screams and shouts and the visuals of the mud and blood – was enough to jar me into caring and kind of leave me dumbstruck.

That’s not to say the film was essentially a build up to the action scene – as the assassin’s quest prior to the battle was an interesting story. There wasn’t a cheap scene in the build-up – which is just strong storytelling. The conclusion of the story was extremely satisfying – and even a little bit of a twist that didn’t exactly fit in with the exact nature of the story – but it was pitch perfect to resolve the film (though I interpreted it one way – and considered it the only solution – I guess some could want to believe the other).

For some, I can see how the lack of character development could lead to a lack of recognition while they fought and died muddied and bloodied – but with such beautiful noble samurai deaths – it didn’t phase me. Several of the assassins were given a small bit of this or that that allowed me to recognize them upon their demise – several were not and I didn’t recognize them as being X or Y – but like I said – it didn’t worry me.

I guess I found a few small instances of new technology a tiny bit distracting – but it was used so few and far between that it didn’t impact me that much. I would say for the most part – a lot of old school directing techniques and action sequences helped sell me.

Netflix refused to send this movie to me for a while – though it sat on the top of my rental queue with no wait – which brought up my excitement – and could have easily made the presumptive disparity hard to overcome – but it met and exceeded my expectations. This is not just a renter – but a movie I want to own and kind of wish I didn’t already returned it because I want to watch it again already – I highly recommend it.

* I apologize for lack of pictures – I like to use them to break-up the text – but it appears that once I Googled some up most have been removed due to the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act – which is a shame it’s a visually stunning film and would like to showcase it in my review

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