13 Assassins (UK - DVD R2)
Marcus goes to a town of death with 200 friends and it ends up being an ambush
Based on a true incident, 13 Assassins is the story of a group of warriors banding together for a suicide mission to take out Lord Naritsugu (Gorô Inagaki), a sadistic lord who wants to bring on a war and has no compassion for the lives around him. Upon hearing of Nartisugu’s heinous crimes, a noble samurai named Shinzaemon (Kôji Yakusho) takes up the task of hiring the group of fighters. Shaking with the excitement at the possibility of an honorable samurai death, he gathers a group of thirteen dedicated assassins. Together they devise a plan to take on Naritsugu’s personal army of seventy men, led by Shinzaemon’s fiercely dedicated rival, Hanbei (Masachika Ichimura).
13 Assassins is a total celebration of everything that’s great about samurai movies. With echoes of Seven Samurai as well as other Kurosawa-esq outings, Takashi Miike brings together thirteen thoroughly likable characters to undertake an impossible mission against the utterly detestable Lord Naritsugu and despite the relativity slow build up, the payoff coming in the final 50 minute battle is simply astonishing to watch unfold.
By the time the assassins turn a small trading town into a “Town of Death” we have all the dramatic pieces in place to enjoy the attempts on taking out Lord Naritsugu. Every one of the assassins have their own reasons for their involvement and as each one gets their spotlight moment in some of the most fluid and well choreographed sword battles in what seems like ages and it's through this, Takashi Miike’s movie goes from great to astonishing. There’s a pace to this battle that not even the best action movie directors always achieve. Each turn brings something else to take you by surprise. Giant spiked walls blocking in enemies, flaming bulls tearing down the streets, explosions of blood or just the simplicity of someone being ridiculously good with a sword or two. All of this stuff is simply put, amazing to watch and it feels perfectly balanced with the growing drama of seeing these 13 assassins achieving their ultimate goal.
13 Assassins was a joy once it got going and even the slow build up was full of great dialogue and well handled drama. The minimal effects work well with the action and it was a breath of fresh air to see it so simply done. The feeling that these guys have been through a whole world of shit as the movie comes to a close was genuinely felt and added so much weight to the final few one-on-one fights to wrap up events. Takashi Miike has delivered a bit of a classic in my mind. One of those movies that will be referred to and probably mimicked for a good few years because when someone perfectly masters a genre and in addition to that ups the game as well as this, you really can’t help but go nuts for it.
Well after all that hype for the movie, it’s a bloody shame the DVD is a washy soft let down. There’s the odd burst of strong colour, such as the green of the forest, the red wine looking blood or some of the awesome black costumes worn by the assassins but the lack of sharpness or fine detail really kills it. Also the night scenes are a touch too dark and gets a little grubby in places and it’s a real shame. This really is one of those DVDs that has scene after scene of visuals you know would look so much better on Blu-ray and frankly it’s distracting.
Well after a poor underwhelming visual presentation it’s good to know the audio is a lot more satisfying. The strong dialogue is great in the centre speaker and the soft underpinning score fills out the fronts very well. It's the ambience of the locations that utilise the rear speakers in the relativity quiet first half of the movie, small crackles from burning candles sit subtly as do extras in and around the scenes. As for the second half when the battles kick off, the clarity of the sword clangs and swooshes sound bloody fantastic. Deep sounding stabs full of grisly blood sprays and a very powerful explosion full of debris and rubble really gives the track a good run and once again the score really gives the track a full sound and provides a thoroughly encompassing affair.
Before the details, I want to mention the god awful menu design here which consist of a still image of the cover artwork - but someone decided it was a good idea to animate the eyes giving a weird action man eyes feeling. Seriously it's terrible.
Moving on to the good stuff we get 22 minutes of deleted scenes and a nineteen minute interview with Takashi Miike, which while full of solid details from the directors feels like it was filmed for morning TV and the female presenter just seems to be reeling out repetitive questions and not really rolling off of Takashi Miike answers. There’s some good stuff in here but it’s not really all that in depth. Finally there’s the trailer (01:56) which is a shame because this one really deserved a good making of.
13 Assassins just plain rocked. Out of all of the period action dramas I’ve seen of late this is by far the best one, impressing me on every level and packed floor to ceiling with fantastic characters and moments so incredibly cool it makes the rest of the action movies in 2011 look like they should try much harder next time (and use less CGI). The disc itself has a solid audio track but the video is a disappointment as are the features despite a few glimmers of good stuff. That said the movie itself is strong enough to warrant your time, though going for the HD option will no doubt be the better idea.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 5th September 2011
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Japanese
Extras: Deleted Scenes, Interview with Takashi Miike, Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Takashi Miike
Cast: Kôji Yakusho, Takayuki Yamada, Yûsuke Iseya
Genre: Action, Drama and War
Length: 120 minutes
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