13 Assassins (2010 film)
Japanese film poster
|Directed by||Takashi Miike|
|Screenplay by||Daisuke Tengan|
|Story by||Shōichirō Ikemiya|
|Based on||13 Assassins|
by Eiichi Kudo
|Music by||Kōji Endō|
|Edited by||Kenji Yamashita|
|Box office||$17.5 million|
13 Assassins (Japanese: 十三人の刺客 Hepburn: Jūsannin no Shikaku) is a 2010 samurai film directed by Takashi Miike. It is a remake of Eiichi Kudo's 1963 Japanese black-and-white film 13 Assassins. Loosely based on historical events, the film is set in 1844 toward the end of the medieval Edo period. In the story, a group of thirteen assassins—composed of twelve samurai and a hunter—secretly plot to assassinate the savage leader of the Akashi clan, Lord Matsudaira Naritsugu, before his appointment to the powerful Shogunate Council.
13 Assassins stars Kōji Yakusho, Takayuki Yamada, Sōsuke Takaoka, Hiroki Matsukata, Kazuki Namioka, and Gorō Inagaki. It is the third film in which Yamada and Takaoka co-starred, the first two being Crows Zero and Crows Zero 2, both directed by Miike. Principal photography took place in the course of two months in Tsuruoka, Yamagata, in northern Japan, in the period from July to September 2009. The film opened in Japan on 25 September 2010 and in the United States on 29 April 2011 to very good reviews.
In 1844 of the Edo period, as the Tokugawa shogunate is in decline, Lord Matsudaira Naritsugu of Akashi rapes, tortures, and murders his citizens at will. He is shielded because the Shōgun is his half-brother. Sir Doi Toshitsura, the Shōgun's Justice, realizes that the situation will escalate after Naritsugu ascends to a higher political position. After a wronged party publicly commits seppuku as a way of showing disdain for Lord Naritsugu, Sir Doi seeks out a trusted older samurai, Shimada Shinzaemon, who served under the former shōgun, and secretly hires him to assassinate Naritsugu. However, Naritsugu's loyal retainers, led by Hanbei, an old contemporary of Shinzaemon, learn of the plot by spying on Doi's meetings.
Shinzaemon gathers eleven more trusted samurai including Shinzaemon's nephew, Shinrokurō, who together plan to ambush Naritsugu on his official journey from Edo to his lands in Akashi. Just before they leave, Hanbei arrives and warns his old colleague that he will suffer grave consequences if he tries to kill Naritsugu.
The group, with the legal authority and financial assistance of Sir Doi, buy the help of the town of Ochiai in order to create a trap. They also enlist the help of Makino, a minor lord whose daughter-in-law was raped and son murdered by Naritsugu. With troops, Makino blocks the official highway, forcing Naritsugu to head into town and the trap. During the assassins' own journey to the town, they are attacked by ronin who have been paid off by Hanbei to kill the plotters. The group decides to head through the mountains but end up getting lost. In the process they encounter a hunter named Kiga Koyata who becomes their guide; Shinzaemon eventually recruits him as the thirteenth assassin.
The town is converted into an elaborate maze of booby traps and camouflaged fortifications. When Naritsugu and his retinue arrive their numbers have been swelled with additional troops. The thirteen assassins are no longer facing seventy men-at-arms; now they face two hundred. A lengthy battle follows, with Naritsugu and his guards trapped inside the village and attacked on all sides by arrows, explosives, knives, and swords—with the exception of Koyata, who fights with rocks in slings. In the midst of this carnage, the deranged noble Naritsugu is elated. He tells Hanbei that when he ascends to the Shōgun's council he will bring back the wars of the Sengoku period.
The assassins are killed, but not before they inflict heavy damage on the Akashi forces. Eventually, Naritsugu and Hanbei are cornered by Shinzaemon and Shinrokurō. After Shinzaemon kills Hanbei, Naritsugu kicks his loyal retainer's head away, insulting the older samurai. Contemptuously, Naritsugu announces that both the people and the samurai have only one purpose and that is to serve their lords. Shinzaemon counters by telling Naritsugu that lords cannot live without the support of the people and that, if a lord abuses his power, the people will always rise against him. Naritsugu and Shinzaemon mortally wound each other. As the lord crawls away in mud crying and experiencing fear and pain for the first time, he thanks Shinzaemon for showing him excitement before Shinzaemon chops his head off.
After Shinzaemon dies, Shinrokurō wanders through the carnage. He meets the hunter Koyata, who has made a miraculous recovery after being stabbed in the neck by Naritsugu. The two then make their separate ways out of the town. An epilogue states that the Shōgun and his government covered up what really occurred, announcing that Naritsugu died of illness on the journey back to his lands. Twenty-three years later, the Tokugawa Shogunate would be overthrown with the Meiji Restoration.
- The ruler of the Akashi Domain. His violent atrocities in his land have gone unpunished since he is protected by the Shōgun, who is his half-brother.
- The senior advisor to the Shogunate Council. Alarmed that Naritsugu has been considered by the Shōgun for a political position on the council, he hires Shinzaemon to kill Naritsugu beforehand.
- A war-weary, decorated samurai who believes that there is more to Bushido than blind obedience. Convinced that there was no chance for an honorable death, he is deeply elated when hired to carry out the mission. He assembles a group of eleven samurai to plot an ambush on Naritsugu's annual journey from Edo to his land in Akashi.
- Second-in-command to Shinzaemon, another veteran samurai who volunteers his best and most trusted students for the mission.
- A masterless samurai of unmatched swordsmanship, who trained under Shinzaemon.
- Shinzaemon's nephew, who has strayed from Bushido to become a gambler and a womanizer. Bored and ashamed, he joins the mission to redeem himself.
- A hunter who is found suspended in a cage in the forest as a punishment for seducing his boss's wife and aids the assassins in finding a route to Ochiai. He is eventually recruited by Shinzaemon as the thirteenth assassin. Although not explicitly stated, it is heavily implied that he is a yōkai (supernatural entity).
13 Assassins was produced through Toshiaki Nakazawa's film outfit, Sedic International, and Jeremy Thomas's Recorded Picture Company. Nakazawa had previously worked with director Takashi Miike on The Bird People in China and Andromedia (both in 1998), Yakuza Demon (2003), and Sukiyaki Western Django (2007). At the start of production, Thomas said he was pleased to be working again with "wonderful Japanese filmmakers like Toshiaki Nakazawa and Takashi Miike, whose work speaks for itself as being amongst the most successful and innovative coming from Japan". Nakazawa replied that he would like Thomas "to wear a sword also, and with one more assassin, together we will send out the fourteen assassins over there". Of his approach in directing the film, Miike said:
I felt that all of us working on our remake of 13 Assassins had to honour the original director, Eiichi Kudo, and everyone else who created the original. It was important to avoid doing what most modern-day chanbara do, which is to insert a love story, or interpose modern-day mindsets. Over the years, people have remade Kurosawa movies, but failed every time because they have not been able to adapt the story into something young audiences can understand.
Having been a fan of Kōji Yakusho's acting, Miike made it a priority that he be cast in the leading role. In addition, he sought younger actors to play the assassins, in particular Sousuke Takaoka and Takayuki Yamada, with whom Miike had worked in his two films, Crows Zero (2007) and its sequel Crows Zero 2 (2009). The film's screenplay was written by Daisuke Tengan, who had also written the screenplay for Miike's film Audition (1999).
The film entered production over a two-month period. Principal photography began in July 2009 on a large open-air set in Tsuruoka in the Yamagata Prefecture in northern Japan. The filming of the action scenes took about three weeks and was met with minor weather-related difficulties. Miike had strayed from the use of CGI in the film as well as planning the scenes via storyboarding, insisting on shooting the scenes right away. In a separate interview, however, Miike said that some CGI were used, albeit minimal. Over half of the thirteen actors playing the assassins were reportedly inexperienced in sword fighting and horseback riding, and Miike wanted them to be just that, explaining, "If the actors had been skilled from the beginning, and had been in several samurai movies before, the way they approached the action would've been different; they probably would've ended up being something they were doing to look good or be beautiful, or to fall into the trappings of the stereotypical form that they had." Filming concluded in early September 2009.
Jeremy Thomas's London-based company HanWay Films handled international sales. Toho had prebought the rights to distribute the film in Japan, and released it on 25 September 2010. The film competed for the Golden Lion at the 67th Venice International Film Festival on 9 September 2010.
Magnet Releasing, a genre arm of Magnolia Pictures, acquired North American distribution rights for the film. The film streamed video on demand in March 2011, and was released in theaters in the United States on 29 April.
13 Assassins drew very good reviews from critics, many of whom praised its final battle sequence which takes 45 minutes of screen time. The review-aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes offers a 96% approval rating from 125 published reviews (a weighted average of 8 out of 10) and the consensus, "Takashi Miike's electric remake of Eiichi Kudo's 1963 period action film is a wild spectacle executed with killer, dizzying panache." Rotten Tomatoes also ranked the film at No. 18 on its "100 Best Fresh Action Movies" list. Metacritic, another review aggregator, gave a score of 84 out of 100 based on 33 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times described the film as "terrifically entertaining, an ambitious big-budget epic, directed with great visuals and sound" and compared it favorably to other action films in its subtle use of CGI effects; he gave it three-and-a-half stars out of four. Ebert also praised the way the film "focuses on story in the midst of violence", incorporating characters and drama with a skill that most blockbuster action films lack. Ebert later included it in his Best Films of 2011 list as an addendum to his top 20. Writing for The New York Times, Manohla Dargis chose 13 Assassins as her Critic's Pick and described it as "A stirring, unexpectedly moving story of love and blood..." V. A. Musetto of the New York Post opined that the film was a nod to Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (1954) and Ran (1985), having referred to its climax as "a pulse-quickening masterpiece that would please the mighty Kurosawa".
Mark Schilling of The Japan Times commended Miike's subtle yet orthodox approach to directing the film, as well as the performance of the ensemble cast, especially Kōji Yakusho. Schilling gave the film four stars out of five, but, notwithstanding other favorable comparisons, Schilling noted that it barely "strike[s] the deeper chords" of Seven Samurai. Tom Mes of Film Comment said it "culminates in a riveting, ingeniously plotted, and inventively shot 45-minute battle scene that few contemporary Japanese directors besides Miike could pull off, either logistically or artistically". Leslie Felperin of Variety praised the "gracefully executed" editing by Kenji Yamashita, the "terrific, character-defining" costume design by Kazuhiro Sawataishi, and the "rousing, propulsive score" by Miike collaborator Kōji Endō.
The film's DVD and Blu-ray versions were released in the United States on 5 July 2011 by Magnet Releasing, and in the United Kingdom on 5 September by Artificial Eye. The DVD version was the 12th-bestselling DVD in its first week of availability in the US, selling 41,593 copies. In its second week, it dropped to 30th place, selling 13,922 copies. The Blu-ray version was the third-bestselling Blu-ray, selling 33,142 copies in its first week. In its second week, it dropped to 10,335 copies and was placed 20th. The Blu-ray version garnered positive reviews from IGN, DVD Talk, Slant Magazine, and HuffPost UK.
In Japan, the film won four of its ten nominations at the 34th Japan Academy Prize, and won both of its two nominations at the 32nd Yokohama Film Festival. In 2014 Time Out polled several film critics, directors, actors, and stunt actors to list their top action films. 13 Assassins was listed at 94th place on the list. The film made the British Film Institute's list of 10 great samurai films, and was ranked at No. 5 on Screen Rant's 12 Best Action Movies You've Never Heard Of.
|Award||Date of ceremony||Category||Recipient(s) and nominee(s)||Result||Ref(s)|
|Asian Film Awards||21 March 2011||Best Production Design||Hayashida Yuji||Won|||
|Best Director||Takashi Miike||Nominated|
|Best Actor||Kōji Yakusho||Nominated|
|Best Editor||Kenji Yamashita||Nominated|
|Austin Film Critics Association Awards||28 December 2011||Top 10 Films||—||Ninth place|||
|Japan Academy Prize||18 February 2011||Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography||Nobuyasu Kita||Won|||
|Outstanding Achievement in Lighting Direction||—||Won|
|Outstanding Achievement in Art Direction||Yûji Hayashida||Won|
|Outstanding Achievement in Sound Recording||Jun Nakamura||Won|
|Picture of the Year||—||Nominated|
|Director of the Year||Takashi Miike||Nominated|
|Screenplay of the Year||Daisuke Tengan||Nominated|
|Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role||Kōji Yakusho||Nominated|
|Outstanding Achievement in Music||Kōji Endō||Nominated|
|Outstanding Achievement in Film Editing||Kenji Yamashita||Nominated|
|Online Film Critics Society||2 January 2012||Best Foreign Language Film||—||Nominated|||
|Satellite Awards||18 December 2011||Best Foreign Language Film||—||Nominated|||
|St. Louis Gateway Film Critics Association||12 December 2011||Best Foreign Language Film||—||Won|||
|Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association||5 December 2011||Best Foreign Language Film||—||Nominated|||
|Yokohama Film Festival||6 February 2011||Best Film||—||Won|||
|Best Screenplay||Daisuke Tengan||Won|
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