Grade B

Taking place in the mid-1800s in Feudal Japan, “13 Assassins” is the story of 13 men (12 samurai and 1 very strange man) who are tasked with assassinating a cruel, evil Lord (played by Goro Inagaki) to prevent him from attaining more power and wreak havoc throughout the entire country.

In charge of the assassins is a skilled samurai played by Koji Yakusho.  He hears and sees firsthand the evidence of Inagaki’s barbarism one night, and he gladly accepts his mission.  To finally go to combat after years of peace, and to kill possibly the most hated person in Japan…it makes Yakusho so giddy that his hands are shaking from the excitement!  But his happiness is tempered by the knowledge that Inagaki is protected by a samurai who is an old friend of Yakusho.  To kill the target, Yakusho will have to fight and kill his friend.

My most memorable, movie moment of “13 Assassins” is the scene when a girl who was tortured by Inagaki is brought to Yakusho.  Her clothes are removed, revealing limbs that were cut off by Inagaki — what was once a beautiful, young woman is now a pitiful, ghastly sight to behold.  Yakusho asks the girl a question, but she cannot speak because Inagaki has also cut off her tongue!

“13 Assassins” gives us a villain whom the audience will want to see suffer and die; unfortunately Inagaki’s character is so one-dimensional that he’s a caricature.  If he was replaced by a clay-motion figure, I don’t think it would matter.  Thankfully this movie also gives us many other characters that are multi-dimensional, especially that of the head samurai who protects Inagaki, even though he knows his Lord is a monster.  His bushido/samurai code forces him to stay loyal and protect his Lord/master no matter what.

Movies of this genre tend to have amazing cinematography, and “13 Assassins” doesn’t deviate from this.  The quiet moments usually have no movement from the camera, which I welcome after seeing so many Hollywood movies that look as if the cameraman suffered some type of palsy.  As for the action sequences…well, it has the typical shenanigan of one good fighter holding off and killing dozens of enemies.  In the case of this movie, 13 men fight hundreds.  Time and again, we see one or two of the good guys surrounded by dozens of their enemy, but manage to kill the bad guys because, well, the bad guys like to hang back and flinch as they attack one by one.  It’s not all b.s., as early in the final battle the assassins find ingenious ways to trap and whittle down the numbers of their enemy.  But once it’s katana against katana, prepare to suspend your disbelief.

— M