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Book & Film Reviews

13 ASSASSINS 2010 DVD REVIEW

Here it is folks - the swordplay film chanbara fans have been waiting for, after a recent slew of movies, some good (Ichi, When The Last Sword Is Drawn and Love Honour) some not so good (Goemon,Kamui: The Last Ninja) we finally have Takashi Miike's full blown samurai epic. Having flirted with different types of action in the past (low budget V-cinema fare, guns and explosions in the Dead Or Alive yakuza trilogy, CGI in the family friendly tale - The Great Yokai War and wholesale, unstoppable slaughter in the bizarre time travelling reality warping too much for Miike fans strangefest of Izo, Miike brings it all together for a relatively "normal" take on the 1963 version of 13 Assassins.

There's a little bit of strangeness, courtesy of Audition scribe Daisuke Tengen - a woman is left tongueless and limbless and a family is used as target practice by the lead villain - Lord Naritsugu Matsudaira, a deranged political heir who relishes the system that protects him from any incriminations. It is left to Shinzaemon Shimada to locate and hire enough samurai to attack Lord Matsudaira and his army of 200 men.
Miike doesn't waste too much time assembling the team, he does so by collecting them as Shimada strategises his battle plan. We know we're not going to get 13 backstories so some of the men agree to the plan pretty quickly. Whilst there are some similarities with Seven Samurai the main difference is that the villain is at the apex of the power pyramid something that makes it automatically relevant to today's geopolitical landscape.

After a little bit of action to introduce the style (realistic and full of tension) the team picks up the 13th assassin (whose backstory is fleshed out somewhat in the deleted scenes) then all hell breaks out for almost an hour and at no point was I lost or confused about who was doing what and to whom it was being done to. There's a real adrenaline rush to the battle that's reminiscent of watching John Woo's The Killer or Hardboiled for the first time - you're completely in the moment and you can't believe what you're seeing. This battle reveals several characters more deeply - the master swordsman poised and ready to use the swords already plucked from dead men and stuck in the earth. The fresh faced samurai who has only recenlty killed his first combatant, the villain enjoying the carnage "Is this what the era of war was really like?" he asks. Then there's the 13th assassin using home made weapons and taunting the enemy, claiming he fights bears for a living and that "samurai are so boring" Each time our heroes are close to Matsudaira he is spirited away to a safer place or reinforcements emerge to fend off any of the 13. It's an elaborate game of chess - retreat to win or attack to defend?? I won't reveal the ending but it is still infused with incredible tension and catharsis. Miss this one at your peril. 5/5

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