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As we already have two reviews of the feature on the site – by Marcus Doidge and Jonathan Hogberg – I have decided to dispense with a lengthy discussion of the film and instead concentrate on the quality of the Blu-ray itself. This Artificial Eye disc presents the shorter International cut of 13 Assassins that omits a number of scenes, chiefly those that pertain to the possible supernatural origin of one of the characters, which is a pity if not entirely unexpected. Here’s a brief plot synopsis before the technical appraisal.

Allegedly based on a true historical incident, Miike Takashi’s 13 Assassins is a samurai epic that tells the tale of the sadistic Lord Naritsugu, half-brother of the current Shogun and heir to that particular mantle and the vast political power that comes with it. Naritsugu’s merciless reign of terror has seen him commit atrocities such as rape and mass-murder without fear of retribution, that is until Sir Doi, a senior member of the samurai council, secretly hires a trusted old samurai, Shinzaemon, to kill him. In order to carry out the assassination Shinzaemon recruits twelve warriors to the cause, including his nephew Shinroukuro. They plan to intercept Naritsugu on his long journey from Edo back to his Akashi homeland and decide to take a stealthy route through the mountains. Here they meet a hunter named Koyata who claims to be of samurai lineage and adopt him as the thirteenth assassin. Koyata helps them to find a route to the village they have chosen for the ambush, but when Naritsugu arrives the assassins discover that he is accompanied not by the expected seventy warriors, but by two hundred!

Video


Artificial Eye’s 13 Assassins arrives with a 2.40:1 (1080/24p AVC) widescreen transfer that is a clear step up from the DVD. The opening scenes of the film take place mostly in interior locations lit by soft candlelight, which makes for quite a dim, murky image. Some of the finer details are lost to the gloom, with the dark samurai robes often blending into the background elements, but it would appear that this is a stylistic choice rather than an issue with the transfer. During these scenes the palette is almost exclusively comprised of blacks, greys and browns, which lends a near- monochromatic look to the piece, although the odd bit of greenery is sometimes visible out of open doorways and windows. The second half of the film is brighter and more colourful as the action moves into forests and villages, but nothing really ‘pops’ and the image is still pretty drab by most standards. Detail is satisfying if not exemplarity and artefacts – both film and digital – are not a cause for concern. Truth be told the image is a little flat, but this appears to be by design so I can’t really complain. While it’s not the prettiest Blu-ray you’ll see this year 13 Assassins still a solid effort overall.

Audio


13 Assassins arrives with two DTS-HD Master Audio options: 5.1 and 2.0 Stereo. I went with the former for the purposes of the review, although for the first half of the film I could have been forgiven for thinking I’d selected the wrong track. It’s an incredibly talkie opening with very little in the way of effects beyond little things like footsteps moving from the rear to the front of the soundstage, the crackle of burning candles or off-camera voices. Thankfully dialogue comes through loud and clear throughout, with everyone speaking in purposeful tones and deep, resonant voices to convey the gravity of the situation. At around the forty-five minute mark the track suddenly comes to life. The score becomes a more prominent and there are a greater variety of sound effects that occur with increased frequency, often utilising the surround channels to great effect. We get everything from heavy rainfall and galloping horses to the sounds of katanas slicing through flesh and the screams of the dying. The final forty-five minutes are an almost constant symphony of flying arrows, explosives, fountains of blood and cold, hard steel that is just about as impressive as anything I’ve heard recently. It really is a film of two halves aurally, which is why I've opted for a slightly lower rating overall.

The Japanese soundtracks are accompanied by optional English subtitles that appear to offer a fairly decent translation of the original dialogue, although in reality I’m sure things have been somewhat dumbed-down. The subs are generally easy to read, although they do flash by a little too quickly on one or two occasions.

Extras


As mentioned earlier in the review this is the shorter International cut of the film, but thankfully all of the excised material is available on the disc in the form of deleted scenes (HD). As far as I can tell everything that was cut is feature here, including the footage that gives credence to the theory that one particular character is more than he appears to be.

Next up is an interview with the director (HD), which is a little on the short side. It's conducted by a very lovely young Japanese girl who asks some fairly straightforward questions that Miike answers as thoroughly as possible. It's not a particularly probing interview but it's worth a watch. The final extra is the film's theatrical trailer (HD).

Overall


13 Assassins is another quality film from Miike. It's not one of those films that you watch for complex plotting or masterful acting (not that the acting isn't of a high standard), but more for the experience. It's a simple idea executed extremely well; a slow-burning tale of vengeance that offers up some fantastic action. Technically there's not really a whole lot wrong with the disc, delivering as it does a solid visual presentation coupled with a surprisingly great aural experience. The extras are a bit thin on the ground but what there is holds your attention well enough. In the current financial climate we should feel lucky that the film gets a Blu-ray release at all, let alone one with bonus material, so it comes recommended.

* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.

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