Film Review: 13 Assassins (2010)

My ‘ssassin Boys

by Ender’s Girl

(Sorry for the lame-o title-o, but a pun on the hit 2001 K-romcom My Sassy Girl was the best I could come up with – though I know not everyone can relate. My apologies.)

The Cast:
Yakusho Koji, Yamada Takayuki, Iseya Yusuke, Matsukata Hiroki, Inagaki Goro, Ihara Tsuyoshi, Sawamura Ikki, Furuta Arata, Takaoka Sousuke, Rokkaku Seiji, Matsumoto Koshiro, Namioka Kazuki, Kondo Koen, Ishigaki Yuma, Kubota Masataka, Ichimura Masachika

Directed by Miike Takashi / Toho & Sedic International, 2010

In a Nutshell:
A crack team of 13 samurai battles the odds – and an army of 200 elite guardsmen – in a suicide mission to dispatch an evil lord in late-Edo Japan.

(SpoilLert: Don’t worry, not saying who dies – or lives – in the end!)

“A good fort needs a gap. The enemy must be lured in so we can attack them. If we only defend, we lose the war.”

– Shimada Kambei in Seven Samurai (Kurosawa, 1954)

With 13 Assassins, master provoc-auteur Miike Takashi takes on a revitalized genre that, in recent years, has become the playground of veteran filmmakers like Yamada Yoji who favor quieter, deconstructed re-imaginings of samurai slumming it in the relatively bloodless years of the Pax Tokugawa.

In sharp contrast to Miike’s 2010 period opus (and, uh, 183,034th career feature to date lol), Yamada Yoji jidaigeki (Twilight Samurai, The Hidden Blade) are leisurely explorations of the minutiae of Japanese feudal society – samurai pass their time running office errands, dabbling in a trade, or perhaps, on more exciting days, refereeing (or figuring in) a domestic spat or two. In this era of peace, nobody has time to whinge about not having any civil wars to fight, or foreign armies to repel, or rival daimyo to vanquish (the daily grind of life is a battle in itself). And instead of traditional heroes and villains, Yamada Yoji protagonists are but regular blokes, and the antagonists usually snooty in-laws or petty, opportunistic bureaucrats.

Now enter Miike Takashi’s World, where: “If it ain’t about the killin’, then it ain’t worth filmin’!!!” His samurai and aristos are just. too. cool to trouble themselves with such mind-numbing mundanities; they loaf through the hated peacetime torpor with a bad case of the blahs, willing themselves back to the good ol’ pre-shogunate g(l)ory days of barbarism and bloodshed, when everyone and everything went by the credo “Fight-o ergo sum.” Robbed of their self-validating license to do violence, they longingly finger their idle swords while dreaming of honor and sacrifice, and nursing death wishes of an epic scale to match their own aspirations to immortality.

And the villains in Miike’s World? All ineffably twisted megalomaniacs stripped of every shred of human decency. If you’re wondering just how bad a villain ought to be in a Miike Takashi jidaigeki, suffice it to say that simple rape and pillage simply won’t cut it anymore – just ask Lord Naritsugu (Inagaki Goro FTW!!), the debauched dilettante-lord (and half-brother to the shogun, ohNOES!) whose uncontrollable bloodlust and sadistic (read: freakyshiyeeet) fetishes spark off the chain of events depicted in the film.

In fact, Lord Naritsugu is SOOOO EEEVOL, that when he’s on the road and stops the night at a local daimyo’s estate, his idea of “room service” is to exercise his droit de seigneur on the first pretty young thing he sees in the hallway; when the poor girl’s horrified husband rushes in, Naritsugu, blade in hand, skewers the young man and then calmly hacks his head off. And that’s not all!!! Lord Naritsugu is SOOOO EEEVOL, he plays soccer with people’s severed heads, not caring a whit if these heads once belonged to nameless prisoners or his long-serving deputies, tsk tsk.

And that’s not all!!! He’s SOOOO EEEVOL, that when a dissenting lord commits seppuku to protest Naritsugu’s, well, EEEVOLness, the maniac has the dead lord’s surviving family members – including a four-year-old boy! – rounded up, hogtied, and used for his archery target practice. And that’s not all!!! Lord Naritsugu is SOOOO EEEVOL, that he orders the “total massacre” of a rebel leader’s family – but he spares the daughter just so he can have her limbs and tongue cut off, to keep on for his sick amusement.

Well, at least no one can say that Lord Naritsugu didn’t have it coming; and if his endless rap sheet of atrocities weren’t already screaming for divine comeuppance one way or another, they certainly warranted the next best punishment: an elaborate liquidation plot secretly ordered by a veddy, veddy concerned bakufu official. For we know that in Miike’s World, there are few fates scarier than getting CREAMED!!! BY. A. BADASS!!! SAMURAI!!! HIT SQUAD!!!

Interesting premise, yes? The concept alone had me salivating for months, beginning with this anticipatory primer which I posted a while back. But halfway into the film, I realized I may have set my expectations a tad too high. (Memo to self: No more anticipatory primers!!! Ayayay!) Because surely there’s got to be a more dynamic way to set the stage and build narrative tension in Act I than by showing a bunch of middle-aged mandarins in a midnight conclave, trading Lord Naritsugu horror stories in hushed tones and matching expressions of revulsion and righteous anger – e.g. “OMG he’s sooo EEEVOL!!!” “IKR??? A total whack job!!!” “I mean this ain’t Ancient Rome, yo!” “He must be stopped before he plunges our land into chaos!!!” “OMG, we gotta take him out!!!” “Imma make sure Lord Naritsugu sleeps with the fishes!!!” “Bad Goro! Bad Goro!!!” (Okay that last one was all me.) And for emphasis, cue intercutting shots of Goro (okay, of Lord Naritsugu) committing said acts of villainy, tsk tsk.

But Lord Naritsugu’s monstrous nature doesn’t quite jibe with the overall tone of 13 Assassins, which dyed-in-the-wool Miike Takashi fans might find too staid for the prolific filmmaker’s signature style, conspicuously lacking the mad, manic fingerprints of Japanese cinema’s favorite pulp anarchist, enfant terrible, and Energizer Bunny rolled into one. Naritsugu’s heinousness would work better in Miike Takashi’s less… temperate works, where the characters and scenarios are on a totally different plane of reality that you don’t really question why everyone and everything is so over-the-top kerreyyyzeee, you just accept it as the status quo. Whereas Lord Naritsugu’s EVOLness in 13 Assassins just feels absurd. We don’t even know how Lord Naritsugu turned out to be such a trigger-happy psycho – was he dropped on his head as a baby? bullied relentlessly by SMAP in the third grade? catch his pops in the outhouse one afternoon dressed as a geisha? Meh.

Despite the thinly written role, Inagaki Goro impresses with his unsettling portrayal of Naritsugu. Behind each heavy-lidded gaze and malcontent sigh is a listless depravity that’s far more effective than face-scrunching, moustache-twirling antics. Naritsugu reminds you of those dudes who seem perfectly normal and sane on the outside but turn out to be cold-blooded murderers or rapists or something. (Some of the most memorable baddie roles usually fall into this mold, from Dr. Lecter to William Hinks (the serial killer/stalker on The Practice) to Moriarty from the more recent Sherlock BBC mini-series… and so on.)

It wasn’t much fun watching the first hour of 13 Assassins (rising action too inert, storytelling too straightforward for my liking), but dayyum I enjoyed the Bad Goro moments – like the time he remarks parenthetically to his rape victim while decapitating her dead husband, that “Monkey necks can be so tough, ne?” – and from his tone he could just have been discussing the price of tomatoes. Or take the archery target practice scene where he actually “tsks” (lol!) when his arrow deflects off the four-year-old boy’s trussed-up, quivering body. I’ve only seen Goro do comedy (whether it’s intentional, like the sketches he does on SMAPxSMAP – he’s pretty good at it, too; or, uh, unintentional – like, uh, every time SMAP share their stage with an international guest singer, bwahaha), so it was a welcome surprise to find him more than capable of handling serious material. (Good Goro, Good Goro!)

Lord Doi, the veddy, veddy concerned bakufu official who orders the hit on Naritsugu, actually does so with the shogun’s secret blessing – although obviously the shogun would never openly go against his own (half-)brother dearest as this would dangerously undermine his own legitimacy and authority. Since Lord Doi cannot denounce Naritsugu without implicating his boss, he delegates the job to the only man he can trust, a recently widowed samurai now living in gentrified semi-retirement out in the country. The name? Shimada. Shimada Shinzaemon.

Miike Takashi hit a bonanza by casting industry great Yakusho Koji as Shimada Shinzaemon, the seasoned leader of the titular assassins. Younger audiences may recognize Yakusho Koji from big Hollywood productions like Babel and Memoirs of a Geisha, but it’s the 1996 homegrown hit Shall We Dance? (yeah the one remade into the R-Gere/J-Lo starrer) that he seems best remembered for. Yakusho Koji doesn’t get to flex many acting muscles in 13 Assassins (nothing terribly challenging here besides the punishing stunt work), but he brings a good mix of righteous gravitas and stoic heroism (not to mention those lean, leathery good looks) to every frame he’s in, whether he’s swinging a katana blade or a fishing pole.

Since Shimada obviously can’t pull off such a crucial assignment all by himself, his first order of business is to assemble his A-Team by asking them, “Shall We Kill?” (lol) You’d expect the pace to pick up at this point, but… it doesn’t. As with Act I, there’s a lot of… sitting and talking that happens in Act II. Shimada doesn’t even go out to actively enlist his ronin; he just sits in his dojo and waits for them to come to him. And despite cursory attempts by the writer to tack on a backstory to one or two characters, the samurai are barely distinguishable from each other because they all wear the same hairstyle because the viewer doesn’t get the chance to soak up the characters – it’s like marinating a slab of meat for only 3 minutes and expecting the flavor to go all the way in when you take a bite. Well, it doesn’t.

Perhaps Miike Takashi didn’t wish his remake to be a radical departure from the 1963 black-and-white original that he tended to play it safe in this film – both as a period piece and as a manly-man team action/adventure caper. But I wanted a team film with at least a little personality, a little flavor to make it memorable. I didn’t mean the raffish, wink-wink slickness of Ocean’s Eleven, or the bromo-erotic brio of Zac Snyder’s 300 (with its steroidal smorgasbord of chest bumps, war whoops and codpieces, oh my!), or even the clever, mindscrewy nonlinearity of The Usual Suspects. But I wish Miike and writer Tengan Daisuke had injected more creativity into the storytelling. Apart from the kickass battle sequence in the third act, there’s little else in 13 Assassins that really, really stands out.

13 Assassins also begs the inevitable comparison to Kurosawa’s genre-setting classic Seven Samurai, not only for its “Tiny band of samurai hole up in a village in a desperate last stand against the bad guys!!!” premise, but also for certain characters who were clearly inspired by the said epic. Despite being, oh, 43 hours long, Seven Samurai was a brilliantly edited piece of storytelling that had thematic depth, humor and real tension percolating between the well-defined characters; whereas 13 Assassins gives you a rudimentary framework of plot and characters but with very little of the meat – and thus very little of the satisfaction.

So who exactly are these thirteen would-be Goro-killers? (lol) Of course there’s Shimada the leader, who finds in the mission his samuraic raison d’etre (so he confides to Lord Doi). There’s also Shimada’s former protégé, a ronin who likes to practice some veddy, veddy cool slasher moves in Shimada’s dojo. There’s another recruit who’s candid enough to say he’s in it for the money; and then there’s the token rookie who looks like he’s nine or something, and who joins up to prove his worth with his first kill.

Yamada Takayuki plays Shimada’s profligate nephew who jumps on the Goro Must Go! bandwagon after Uncle Shimada makes him a sales pitch he can’t refuse: “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life or come with me and change the world?” “Do you want to shag geisha for the rest of your life or come with me and change Japan? And oh yeah we gonna kill Goro too, kill him good!” Yet it’s pretty frustrating to see Yamada Takayuki’s mojo wasted here. I wanted him to at least have fun with the role, dang it. Instead his character plods along with the rest of the film. Where was my crazy-eyed little bugger from the Crows Zeroes? Gone. Gone!!!

Then there’s the cute dude who brings his small posse of all-look-same trainees (uh, Juniors? Lol) from the dojo owned by Shimada’s old buddy, a samurai who has pledged to help out with the mission. Now this geezer is quite a funny character: I call him The Count (yes, as in the Muppet from Sesame Street) because of his compulsive need to keep a running tally of their numbers with each new enlistee, as in: “ONE! One little samurai assassin! AH AH AH AHHH!!!… TWO! Two little samurai assassins! AH AH AH AHHH!!!…” – And so on and so forth; I could seriously picture him with the pointy cape and the thunder and lightning and creepy organ music in the background. (Or mebbe that was just me being bored. AH AH AH AHHH!!!)

There’s almost enough eye candy in this movie to make up for the meager character development – hellooo Takaoka Sousuke and your moobs (ohnoes keep your moobs!), hellooo Sawamura Ikki, hellooo Ihara Tsuyoshi, and yes you, Yamada Takayuki. (Spot the HanaKimi/Gokusen/Nodame Cantabile alums, too!) And let’s not forget the flawlessly chiseled Iseya Yusuke as Kiga the fey forest dweller whom the assassins (at this point numbering – twelve! twelve little samurai assassins! AH AH AH AHHH!!!) come across on their journey and reluctantly admit into their ranks, not knowing what an asset he’ll prove to be in the decisive battle. Grubby, outburst-prone Kiga is an obvious nod to the archetypal Wildman of the Woods/ Offbeat Outsider character virtually patented by the great Mifune Toshiro in films like Seven Samurai. While Iseya is no Mifune, at least his character is the only one of the lot with a love life (albeit shown briefly in flashback), which at least humanizes him a little. Plus, you can never go wrong with those cheekbones.

Now Señor Miike isn’t exactly known for his “progressive” (haha) views on gender relations, and it shows in this film: you’ll find the women in 13 Assassins to be either mewling victims of sexual violence (with or without their… appendages), or pretty, pining domesticates. On the eve of the mission, a dour Yamada Takayuki leaves his wifey at the doorstep with a casual, over-the-shoulder “Oh by the way, Imma return soon… OR NOT. See you at the Festival of the Dead or whatever.” And from his bored, just-shoot-me-now expression you can tell he’d rather be at the damn festival than at home playin’ Scrabble with the missus. He doesn’t even let her respond, he just leaves. I wanted to suckah-punch Yamada in the face. SO BAD. (At least Lena Headey in 300 got to say something ultra cool to hubby-king Gerard Butler before he marched off into the waiting gold-banded arms of Xerxes the Brazilian: “Come back with your shield… or ON it.” *raised chin* *steely gaze* *all fierce woman raargh*)

Act II is when Team Shimada go to the mattresses. (“Leave the katana, take the kappamaki.” LOL) The job, after all, is a do-or-die deal requiring no less than the perfect confluence of timing, a foolproof strategy, and butt-oodles of luck. The annual trek that Bad Goro will be making from the capital to his Akashi domain opens a narrow window of opportunity to take him out. In the wise words of Marshall Mathers III, “You only get one shot / Do not miss your chance to blow / This opportunity comes once in a lifetime, yo!”

Meanwhile, Bad Goro’s crusty chief retainer named Old Jedediah Hanbei is just as determined to thwart Shimada at every turn. The two embody vastly diametrical ideologies: duty-bound Hanbei shares none of Shimada’s social justice ideals, believing that the lot of samurai “is not to wonder why, but to obey our fate and die.” That Hanbei happens to be Shimada’s old rival from samurai academy ups the ante considerably, as each man feels the insane pressure to bring his “A” game all the way to their climactic confrontation.

Shimada’s game plan is to divert Bad Goro’s retinue through a mountain pass and ambush them there. To do this, the assassins engage samurai from Bad Goro’s rival clan, the Owari – all hard-bitten men with a veddy, veddy personal ax to grind against El Psycho. With a little push from Shimada, the Owari samurai block Bad Goro on their bridge with a “You. Shall Not. PASS!!!” moment (reminded me of Gandalf and the Balrog from The Fellowship of the Ring – with leadah Matsumoto Koshiro as Gandalf, natch!), thereby forcing Goro to send the bulk of his Praetorian Guard ahead, and leaving him to traverse the mountain pass with but a “skeleton” force of 200.

At the base of the gorge is a village that Shimada and his men have chosen as the site of their entrapment. After buying the locals’ cooperation and silence, they proceed to rig the town infrastructure with an elaborate system of booby traps, so cleverly placed they practically blend into the scenery. But unlike Seven Samurai, where the heroes fortify a farming village to keep a band of marauders out, the objective of Shimada and his posse is to lure Bad Goro’s entourage in, and make sure nobody gets out alive. I still think Miike Takashi could’ve used better interplay between villagers and samurai at this point to make the story much richer – as Kurosawa had done in Seven Samurai, where the samurai-villager dynamics gave the plot some wonderful traction. Not so for 13 Assassins. (There’s like a 2-second shot of a diminutive village boy showing off his ding-dong while the samurai go about their work, but, um, I don’t think that counts.)

With all preps done, Shimada and his dirty dozen dig in and wait for their quarry to arrive – while the viewer digs in and waits for the film to (finally!!!) reach its flashpoint. And the much-anticipated Big Action-Packed Payoff does come, a ferocious coup de main of detonating bridges and collapsing houses, deadly landmines and crashing makeshift portcullises, sniper arrows and flaming fake CGI ungulates rampaging through the streets. Bad Goro’s beefeaters who survive this initial ambuscade try to fight their way out of the death trap they have unwittingly ridden into, only to find themselves facing the merciless swords, spears and slingshots of Team Shimada. It’s 13 against 200, but in the end, there can be only one (or maybe… two) – but not before each warrior gets his own Epic Moment of Awesome, to replay and freeze-frame for all eternity.

The battle royale clocks in at 40+ nonstop minutes of BLOODY GOOD ACTION, an expertly directed and edited slice-‘em-up mini-movie that aptly requires no background music other than the grunts and screams of grown men fighting and dying amid the smoking ruins and blood-slicked alleys of the village. Every nook, window, roof and mud puddle is utilized to the hilt as the roiling battle shifts in focus but never in momentum or sheer visceral thrill; the combatants clash and regroup, often breaking off into pocket skirmishes and isolated duels before finding themselves swept back into the melee. And the deft, energetic swordplay needs no embellishment from digital or wire effects – the choreography is just that good.

As with the Crows Zeroes, it’s the piece-de-resistance sequences like these that establish Miike’s genius as a stunt/action maven whose greatest strength clearly lies in depicting the beauty and brutality of battle. Of course the danger and consequences are much more amplified in 13 Assassins than in the Crows Zeroes – for these are real men and not surly schoolboys at war, men who actually die, and the stakes are much, much higher than ruling rights over a derelict school building. But whether it’s the juvie slugfests of the Crows franchise or the third-act samurai showdown in 13 Assassins, Miike pours his heart, soul and twisted little mind into these cinematic centerpieces, giving followers of the director (and of the action genre) enough to rave about for a long time to come.

But there’s a sense of self-control in the direction that elevates 13 Assassins above the usual excesses permeating Miike’s most noted (and notorious) works. Sure there’s lotsa blood on the dancefloor – er, battlefloor, but the barf factor is significantly scaled back – for example, in the movie’s two seppuku scenes, Miike tastefully zooms in on the gritted, agony-wracked faces of Uchino Masaaki and Matsumoto Koshiro (with just a Pollockian smatter of blood and squishy sound effects to suggest the actual disembowelment) instead of, well, letting it all hang out before the camera, lol. Even the Bad Goro moments – like the decapitation scene – go easy on the queasy because the worst acts of butchery hover safely out of camera range, and thus deliver their intended effect more powerfully.  The art direction evokes this same restraint with an appropriately low-key palette of plums and browns and teals that comes off as austerely beautiful despite the drab tones.

The one concession that Miike makes to his shock/horror genre roots is a scene early in the film where Shimada Shinzaemon is confronted with Bad Goro’s limbless, tongueless ex-plaything. As the amputee labors to squiggle “total massacre” on a sheet of washi paper, the camera closes in on her face – drooling mouth clamped hard on the brush, bloodshot eyes screaming rage – and you’ll either recoil from your screen, or do a double fist-pump whooping, “Now that’s more like the Miike I know!” You’ll also wonder for a moment who had more fun doing what – Bad Goro mutilating the girl, or Miike Takashi orchestrating the scene as the sly impresario of his own Theater of the Grotesque. (Probably the latter, lol.)

In the movie’s final minutes, when the smoke begins to clear and the mountain fog disperses over the gutted village and its fallen warriors, a survivor is left to ponder this long day and its implications for his class and for him, personally. Viewers, too, will reflect upon the past two hours and ask themselves if the film was an experience worth revisiting again and again – as all well-loved classics are. For all of Miike Takashi’s earnest attempts to craft a modern masterpiece cut from the same cloth as the Golden Age jidaigeki greats, I can’t say that 13 Assassins delivered on my expectations. (Miike followed this up with another remake, the 3D Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai, which debuted at Cannes 2011 to disappointing reviews.)  But is 13 Assassins a movie still worth keeping around the house (or hard disk)? Oh heck, yes – it’ll be perfect for those muggy Saturday afternoons when I’m in an exceptionally sanguinary mood. Naturally I’ll skim over the perfunctory first two acts (but slow down for the Bad Goro parts, lol), and hit “play” at the 70-minute mark, as the movie truly comes alive in all its wild, pulsating glory. And no, I’m not ashamed to say that I share Bad Goro/Lord Naritsugu’s morbid fascination with warfare when he gushes to his loyal Hanbei as the battle rages on: “How magnificent!!!”

Artistic and technical merit: B+
Entertainment value: B
Final: B+


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38 Comments on “Film Review: 13 Assassins (2010)”

  1. Te Wan Kim Says:

    Hey Ender’s Girl,

    I’m glad that you did a review for this! I saw this film a couple months back and I thought it was great, but left me confused at the end. I was wondering if you could tell me your take on it?

    But first……

    SPOILER ALERT! (for those who didn’t see this yet of course :P)

    Ok, so onto the ending: I read an interpretation somewhere that Koyata (Yusuke) and Shinrokuro (Takayuki) are one and the same person, and that is why even though we saw Koyata clearly get killed by Naritsugu’s (Goro) spear, Koga is a survivor along with Shinrouko.

    Another interpretation I read pointed out that Koyata survived because he was actually a demon or mountain spirit which is hinted at by the fact that he was trapped in a hanging net when he was found by the samurais, his ability to take out Naritsugu’s forces using only branches and rocks, and his love for Upashi (who was also most likely a demon as hinted at in the flashback in which she is eating raw meat by a pond with blood trickling down her legs).

    So yeah, what was your reasoning behind Koyata’s survival?

    • Ender's Girl Says:

      Hmmm. The first interpretation doesn’t make any sense to me. Split personalities? So… Koyata would be the Brad Pitt to Shinrokuro’s Edward Norton? lol >D But there’s nothing in the movie that remotely suggests this. If Koyata were a figment of Shinrokuro’s imagination then none of the other assassins should have been able to talk to him. But if you revisit past scenes, the assassins interact with Koyata at one point or another. If Koyata wasn’t real, then he was a mass delusion they all happened to share. That’s stretching it too much, don’t you think? 🙂

      I’m much more inclined to believe the second interpretation, that both Koyata and Upashi are youkai — though it’s only implied. I don’t know how his being trapped in the net proves this, but the strongest indicators seem to be (like you pointed out) his fighting ability and remarkable self-healing powers, as well as his connection to Upashi. If Kiga and Upashi are human, this would make Kiga a super badass and super lucky dude who bounces back real quick from fatal wounds, and Upashi a really crazy woman, lol (I think she was eating her own endometrium — was she having her period perhaps? weird. yuck.). The more plausible explanation is that they’re both not human, even if the movie doesn’t explicitly say so. 😀

  2. Eliza Bennet Says:

    I was looking forward to another review from you and this is such a good one that it’s worth the wait.

    Thank you and please do not keep us waiting too long for another review.

  3. snow Says:

    Interesting review. As a Miike novice, I quite enjoyed 13 Assassins for its action scenes. I was pleasantly surprised by Inagaki’s turn as Naritsugu, though I suspect it’s a one-off because he didn’t seem to possess any acting skills in Bull Doctor. No complaints about Yakusho Koji at all.

    Also, 13 Assassins is actually a remake of the 1963 film by Kudo Eiichi, which in turn was a reworking of sorts of Seven Samurai. Miike’s version was a lot of action and less on characterisation – a pleasant watch, but not as memorable. Kudo’s film (which I have not seen) is apparently much darker than both Miike’s and Seven Samurai.

    • Ender's Girl Says:

      Hello there 🙂 (For some weird reason your comment got routed to my spam inbox. I could’ve deleted it ayayay! :O)

      Too bad to hear that Goro isn’t wowing viewers with his Bull Doctor performance. :-/ I like SMAP immensely but the only members whose acting I follow are Kimura and Tsuyoshi, not really Goro. 13 Assassins may be a one-off for him, but at least he ought to be proud he held his own against the likes of Yakusho Koji. 🙂

      Yeah, I did read that the Kudo Eichii film came out several years after Seven Samurai, which would explain the similarities. Haven’t seen the Kudo original either; so it’s darker ehh? Innneresting… 🙂 Though I actually liked the balance that Kurosawa struck between the light and the heavy moments in his film. I dunno why some people found Seven Samurai boring. ‘Twas very engrossing for me. ^^;;

      • snow Says:

        LOL, I think this one will go to the spam inbox as well…

        Inagaki in Bull Doctor… he was a douchebag through and through, everyone else acted better than he did. That drama was just meh for all concerned (Esumi Makiko deserves better). Kimura is a decent actor but I prefer his earlier works like Long Vacation. Saw Kusanagi in 2003’s Taikoki with Fujiki Naohito (Fujiki fangirl here XD) and thought he did pretty well.

        I was actually kinda bored by Seven Samurai though… oops, hehe. Among Kurosawa’s works, I prefer Ran and Stray Dog (Nora inu) – the latter seems pretty underrated and overlooked whenever people talk about Kurosawa.

        • Ender's Girl Says:

          Oh Fujikiiii!!!! hehehe 😀 You have chosen well, my friend! I think I’m more of a Buchou fangirl than a Fujiki fangirl per se. I didn’t exactly enjoy his characters in ProDai, Love Revolution and Slow Dance. (Or maybe I just haven’t been watching the right dramas? *sweat*) But Imma keep an eye out for Taikoki 😉

          Re Seven Samurai, hey no worries man, my sister found it boring too 😉 The only other Kurosawas I’ve seen are Kagemusha and Dreams. I’ve always been curious about Ran (that’s King Lear right?) and Stray Dogs but never got around to watching either.

          • gaijin mark Says:

            True E.G., Ran is somewhat based on King Lear. If you want to see another Kurosawa/Shakespeare, check out Throne of Blood which is Kurosawa’s version of Macbeth. Izusu Yamada is the creepiest Lady Macbeth ever.

          • Ender's Girl Says:

            Thanks for the rec, g-mark 😉 I looked up Izusu Yamada’s Ran stills and she looked straight out of a horror movie. =P I think Lear is a richer story than Macbeth, but Macbeth has some pretty memorable quotes and I’d love to see the witches in Ran deliver the “double, double toil and trouble / fire burn and cauldron bubble” line — or equivalent thereof. 😀

  4. Eliza Bennet Says:

    Well, it is amazing to how someone can be bored by Seven Samurai (I actually don’t know how many times I watched it) but it would be so dull with everyone liking the same thing.

    I have not seen Stray Dog but I do like Ran (in fact I pretty much like everything I have watched from him with Seven Samurai in the lead followed closely by Roshomon)

    • Ender's Girl Says:

      Well, sometimes it also depends on a person’s particular mood or frame of mind when they’re watching something. But yeah — diversity rocks, so booyah for different tastes and opinions 🙂

      Oh my goodness, now that you mentioned it. I can’t believe I haven’t even seen Rashomon! :O That must be rectified immediately! xD

  5. Rossi Says:

    Ooh yay, another review! I’ve to confess I tend to open your page with a dispirited feeling since I know your updates are not that often (way to guilt you off right away, eh? hurhur) but that make seeing a new review all the better =D.

    I was looking forward to this movie even tho not generally, a fan of Miike’s works. I find his movies tend to be so one tone and predictable. Lots of blood, lots of fight, lots of disenchanted characters. But I do love epic bromance and was looking forward to that in here. Judging from your review though, there doesn’t seem to be that much bromance going on, huh? 😦

    Goro’s acting surprised me too but for me it was his role as the creepy ass brother in “Nagareboshi” – the drama that I was raving about for you to watch in my earlier comment. Btw, not a sad ending. Do watch it!! It’s so lovely. If a giant cheese attack all the jdoramas in the world, “Nagareboshi” and Nobuta are definitely the ones am fighting the cheese for.

    p.s: I’m so happy that Kame’s rating curse is finally broken with his most recent drama. I thought it would be so horrendously bad, it’s awesome but turn out it seems to a legit good drama according to Internet strangers. Yay for the boy!! =D

    • Ender's Girl Says:

      Ah crud, I’m sorry I don’t crank out stuff as often as I (and you guys) would like 😦 I hate letting my readers down but I do appreciate it humongously to know some of you actually look forward to my bloggy updates — however few and far between they are. =)

      “Judging from your review though, there doesn’t seem to be that much bromance going on, huh?” – Well if there ever was, I wasn’t feeling it. Y__Y …I mean, in 300 you could really feel the bromance in Stelios (Michael Fassbender) and Astinos’ brief scenes together, and to think there were 300 of them and not 13, lol. (Those two guys had the best lines, too!)

      “If a giant cheese attack all the jdoramas in the world, “Nagareboshi” and Nobuta are definitely the ones am fighting the cheese for.” – Hahahahaha this is funny and awesome! 😀 Yup Nagareboshi is def. on my to-watch list now, for’ shiz! 😀

      p.s. Ahhhh I know right? I read the good news in aramatheydidnt. I normally don’t say much in Livejournal comms, but for the past week I’ve been parked in the comment thread of arama’s Kame/YNB article, lol. For some weird reason I’m ridiculously thrilled for the boy 🙂 Have not seen a single episode (will wait till it’s fully subbed) but the screencaps and gifs floating about are making me go “heh heh heh heh” *loopy grin* Weird. So weird. xP

      • aireinu Says:

        I also hoped you’d mention some bromance. I do think there were at least 2 couples. The more pronounced one: the ronin and young boy apprentice. The fighting scene where they both died was actually quite touching.
        Thanks for another great review! I’m somewhat a fan of Miike’s. I was slightly dissapointed by this movie also. Still like it, but think it could be better. LOL.
        BTW, maybe it’s just me… But after watching a number of Miike’s movies I think he hates women. Still gonna watch his movies…

  6. Jenny Says:

    Ha! Iseya Yusuke why so handsome <3! And baaack to the point (wipes of drool and silly grin of my face)
    I haven't seen the original film so can't comment on if this was a worthy remake but at least I did enjoy this film compared to some of Miike's earlier works. Miike's next film is also a remake of a old samurai film, it has Eita and Ichikawa Ebizo in it and also featured in Cannes.
    Goro blew me away, I don't think he is a good actor but in the right role he can actually shine, I do wonder if the experience's he had when he was younger helped him in portraying the character.
    Takayuki Yamada was okay but I think Iseya and Goro stole the show in this case but the veteran cast Yakusho and Matsu Takako's otousan were very good as well.
    The action sequence was awesome, the idea that the whole city was one big trap was fantastic and I was blown away.
    In the end this was a good different more old school a la Kurosawa samurai film instead of the more quite ones that were made recently and I can say it is refreshing to see a good samurai action film like this.

    • Ender's Girl Says:

      “I do wonder if the experience’s he had when he was younger helped him in portraying the character.” – OH. MY. GAWWWWWWSHHHH ROFL This literally made me shriek and groan at the same time. I can’t believe you actually said that!!!! *headdesk* I mean, did you mean what I think you meant, or do I just have a filthy mind? Ahahaha 😀 (Oh poor Goro-baby-chan!!!)

      Anyway, hee hee Iseya Yusuke, why so handsome indeed? 😛 Btw have you seen Ashita no Joe? Liked it/loved it/loathed it? ^^;;

      • Jenny Says:

        The credit is not all mine, another film critic pointed out that Smap must have been surrounded by lot’s of slimy people when they were young and inexperienced but I do wonder now if there is a certain someone or someone’s that he was basing the character on (cough cough Johnny Kitagawa cough)

        No haven’t seen Ashita no Joe yet, I think I heard that it was decent movie. Maybe I should watch it someday, it’s most likely better then the crappy Paradise Kiss movie that they made (and I love the manga) 😦
        I did though watch Byakuyakou without subs unfortunately but I was still impressed, Kengo and Maki just broke my heart and the music and the color palette was great. But yeah, didn’t feel very happy afterwards.

        • Ender's Girl Says:

          “Smap must have been surrounded by lot’s of slimy people when they were young and inexperienced but I do wonder now if there is a certain someone or someone’s that he was basing the character on (cough cough Johnny Kitagawa cough)” — Ahahaha that would totally make sense!!! (Now I’m imagining Ol’ Johnny playin’ soccer with the heads of his failed or has-been idols… :O)

          Actually the reason I reacted that way in my previous post was that I thought you were referring to *one* particular incident that reportedly happened in the early days of SMAP. I read somewhere that — if rumors are to be believed — Teenage Goro was one of Diyanni’s, um, “favored ones” (and I obviously don’t mean this in a good way), and there were a few times when he’d come to SMAP rehearsals late and, uh, too debilitated to dance. 😦 Poor Baby Goro! Y__Y

          Ashita no Joe – I actually can’t wait to watch this, Byakuyakou too. 🙂 And uh-oh, looks like I won’t be touching Paradise Kiss then.

          • Jenny Says:

            Well, it seems the has a knack to play bad guys because in his next project he will also be a the antagonist. (I wouldn’t be surprised it “those incidents” had given him some material) I remember reading that he also has been suffering of alcohol and drug problems like Tsyoshi who also had some unfortunate events in his younger days.
            Seriously though I find Johnny-san to be a creep and the fact that he still chooses a boy to live in the same building as him……

  7. How happy I am to see you back! This movie has been on my list for months now. And since I’m one of those people who doesn’t like to read in-depth reviews until I’ve seen the film, I just wanted to leave a comment to say that I WILL BE BACK.

    On a different note, I just love your “College grad a la fangirl” writing style. It’s smart, but not dry; fun but not stupid. Keep it up, Ender’s Girl!

    • Ender's Girl Says:

      Ahahaha “College grad a la fangirl” I kind of like that! 😀 Thanks a mirriyon for the compliment!

      “I’m one of those people who doesn’t like to read in-depth reviews until I’ve seen the film…” – Oh hey, no probz, I’m exactly like that myself, so feel free to drop by whenever you like, no pressure 😉

      • Well, I’m BACK! And I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed your review, Ender’s Girl. The description of “The Count” actually made me laugh out loud. Yup, you’re one in a mirriyon. 😉

        I’m not a big Miike fan – hard core gore and horror ain’t my thing – but I did enjoy Thirteen Assassins. The cinematography was just lovely and the battle sequences were incredible. Favorite scene is a tie between when the bridge blows up & barriers close and the EPIC ronin & young apprentice battle.

        But, as you say, when the smoke cleared and viewers could ask themselves if the film was an experience worth revisiting again and again… I found myself saying no. For this movie to be one for ages, it would have had to develop the characters far more than it did. Most of the 13 are hardly distinguishable from each other. Instead Miike spent the whole first half just illustrating how EEEVOL Lord Naritsugu is.

        • Ender's Girl Says:

          Hey thanks yichella! 😀 Glad you enjoyed the film (and the review hehe), considering gory flicks ain’t yer cuppa blood tea. 😉

          (One! One more reader who liked this post! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah!!!)

          And I agree, the ronin+apprentice sequence was one of the highlights of the whole battle, for shiz! ^^;; At least one of them shoulda survived, ne? 😦

  8. Adolfosama Says:

    I love this kind of movies pure 45 mins of action. I like the scene when lord narigatsu kicks the head of one of his commanders like a football.

    IMO takayuki is a fantastic actor by looking in his eye you can see he disolves into his character, maybe he’s a method actor like robert deniro. I think he didn’t stand out because his character is not quirky like his role in crow zero or the pchychotic man in byakuyakou.


    i think yusuke iseye at the end of the movie is a ghost and that’s why yamada smiles at the very end of the movie because he just realize he saw a ghost. BTW THE ENDING CREDITS SOUNDTRACK ROCK!!!!!!!!!

    • Ender's Girl Says:

      Yeah, Yamada Takayuki is as Methody and talented as they come. He really blew me away in Crows and Byakuyakou. ^^;; But the writing in 13 Assassins was a letdown for me because it didn’t make the characters stand out enough IMO. :-/

      Re your take on the ending, heyyyy I never attributed Yamada’s cryptic smile to the realization that Yusuke was a mountain spirit, but now that you’ve pointed it out, I think that would totally make sense! 🙂

  9. jicks Says:

    An in-depth and hilariously entertaining review (as always!)

    Firstly, LOVE the title: My ‘ssassin Boys.Though… I do see that you used plural form there, E.G….mmm… are you bagging the entire eye-candy cast for yourself? I ask nicely, could you please spare me just one at least? xDD lol

    I’ve been tossing between reading your review on the film nor not since I am yet to see it but… I finally gave in 😀 😀 The film was featured in my city’s annual film festival earlier this year and was a complete sell-out (poopies I didn’t make the cut~~) Kinda wanted to catch it on the big screen and see all that classic Takashi Miike beautiful brutality in all its glory.

    Just like you, I had very high expectations because of the infamous director genius that is Miike san and of course, the all-star cast so it kinda sucks hearing that it doesn’t quite live up to the anticipation ><; In a way though, it's not super shocking because it's always hard to fulfill the glowing reputations these guys have earned themselves, every single time down. That all said, I didn’t think that there is anything wrong with having high standards when it comes to this kinda cast and crew.

    Oh, I'm VERY upset to hear that Yamada Takayuki's talent is suppressed in this film… didn't that that was possible but hey… O_o… I'm even more bummed though about this character not giving his wifey any lurvin'! Boo! I like it when real men get all lovey. Most women do… so, could Takashi Miike perhaps work on sucking the female audience in a bit more in this respect? Or would that take away from who he is? I mean, does it always have to be about the killing?

    I am happy to hear that Goro killed it though (pardun the pun~~)! Anytime a SMAP boy— I mean, a SMAP MAN— shines is a thing of beauty. I like seeing validation that (some) JE manufactured goods can be of quality 😉

    Re Hara-Kiri, I hadn't heard about the lukewarm reviews until just now in your post… argh, was looking forward to that one too (for obvious reasons.) Oh well, whatevs, I will still be seeing it. And I will have my hair all combed and neat when I do so, lol.

    • Ender's Girl Says:

      Yay you liked ze title!!! (I knew you’d get the pun, but wasn’t sure about the non-K-fans =P) Hey sharing is caring, and there’s plenny of eyecandy to go ’round!!! 😀 Why’d I use the plural form? Hmmm… mebbe if it were Kame in the starring role (*shudders!*) it’d be singular haha ;D

      Oh man, sorry to hear you didn’t catch this one on the big screen, because I’m sure the viewing experience (esp. the battle scenes) would’ve been fantastic! Don’t the filmfest organizers give out privilege passes to, um, J-bloggers to cover the event? Now there’s a thought! 😉

      “I like it when real men get all lovey. – Hahaha I KNOW RIGHHHHT?!??! Real mean ain’t afraid to wear their heart on their sleeve, yo! About a dozen Kimura dramas are parading through my head right now… plus Tatta Hitotsu no Koi ahahaha 😛

      “could Takashi Miike perhaps work on sucking the female audience in a bit more in this respect? Or would that take away from who he is? I mean, does it always have to be about the killing?” — ROFL xD If Miike’s movies are any indication of his views on the fairer sex, then I don’t think I’d ever want to be his friend, lolz ^^;; At least Miike’s pulp counterpart in Hollywood (Tarantino) made some films with really strong female characters (Kill Bill), ne?

      “I am happy to hear that Goro killed it though (pardun the pun~~)! Anytime a SMAP boy— I mean, a SMAP MAN— shines is a thing of beauty. I like seeing validation that (some) JE manufactured goods can be of quality” — THIS to the 93487th power!!!!! SMAP is berry good quality, good good quality desu!!! And I hope Goro “killing it” (lmao gold!!!) wasn’t just a fluke… *crosses fingers*

      Re Hara-Kiri, I’ll just bet your hair will be neat and styled to perfection when you go see it! — just like this guy (dude on the right :-P): LOL

      Like you, despite the reviews I’m still pretty keen on giving Hara-Kiri a chance… but the samurai movie I’m REALLY excited about is 47 Ronin aka Keanu & Jin’s Bogus Journey, in theaters November 2012! hahaha:D

      • jicks Says:

        ahahahaha, Keanu & Jin’s Bogus Journey!!!!!! Oh now I am just picturing the two of them acting like goofy androids^^;;;;; It’s going to be amazing, I can feel it in my bones already, LOL.

        Re Quintin Tarantino and Takashi Miike, how fun would it be if they collaborated on the same movie! Oh, imagine the heroine in the film, YOU WOULD NOT WANT TO MESS WITH HER, lol. Soeaking of, I believe Tarantino is actually a huge fan of Takashi Miike. There is a clip on youtube of him talking about his top 20 movies and he names Takashi Miike’s Audition as an absolute masterpiece.

        Wait… here’s the linkie!

        P.S. Thanks for the piccie of the man with the smooth-hair :DD

        • Ender's Girl Says:

          “goofy androids” bwahahaha! 😀 They are soul brothas indeed! Can you imagine them trying to out-“WHOA” and out-“DUDE” each other while gallivanting through Edo Japan? It’s a classic waiting to happen. >P

          Hey thanks a bunch for the linky, I thoroughly enjoyed watching the clip! 😀 Totally not surprised he’s got Miike on his list, heh 😛 Based on this countdown it would appear that Tarantino’s an Asian film fanboy at heart (6 out of 20 titles!). ^^;; I was also tickled to see a couple of personal faves on his list (JSA, Dazed & Confused) and to know that the Dude doesn’t seem to discriminate between high-brow fare (Dogville, The Insider) and popcorn-friendly stuff (The Matrix! Speed!). And I wouldn’t mind Tarantino doing a Battle Royale remake — that should be fun, lol. Only I don’t think it’s likely since BR bears too many parallels to the upcoming Hunger Games trilogy. :O

  10. Ellély Says:

    Hey Ender’s Girl, this has been a long time coming but I just wanted to let you know that I really enjoy reading your reviews (happy belated 2nd blog anniversary btw). The last (and probably only) Miike film I watched was Audition and that was eons ago, though lately I’ve been thinking about giving Crows Zero a go (for extremely shallow reasons *cough*). 13 Assassins wasn’t on my radar but I am really intrigued by your description of Goro’s El Psycho so that’s been added to my ‘to watch’ list. But I am, like you, waiting for 47 Ronin. When I saw that Jin was going to be in it, I was like, ‘This is going to be GOLD.’ XD

    • Ender's Girl Says:

      Hi there Ellely! So thrilled to see your comment here. Thank you so much for the super nice compliment! 😀

      Hahaha your “extremely shallow reasons” for watching Crows Zero wouldn’t by any chance have smthn to do with a certain host club member, would it? xD

      Oh kewl, 13 Assassins is on your list now! Hope Goro doesn’t disappoint!

      Re 47 Ronin — ahahaha I know right??? Can’t wait to watch those two “actors” out-“Whoa dude!” and out-“Bogus!” each other for 2 whole hours while I wolf down bucket after bucket of butter caramel popcorn hahaha. 🙂

  11. aireinu Says:

    On a different note: did you see Miike’s try at a TV drama? QP is currently airing. I’ve only seen 2 eisodes, it looks like Crows-gone-yakuza. And what a pretty-boy yakuza! LOL. Looks like Miike-san likes Saito Takumi’s body. So do I. 🙂

    • Ender's Girl Says:

      Hey there! Thanks for your other comment above, glad you liked the review (even though I left out the samurai bromance hehe). 🙂

      Okay so I looked up the QP drama you mentioned, and… wow… same mangaverse, same director, same costumes and hairstyles, and a repeat perf from Kaneko Nobuaki. Erm, if it’s anything like Crows (well duh) then I’m not sure I want to go down that route again. x_O (Saito Takumi… I barely recall him from Space Battleship Yamato. Was he one of Cap’n Kimura’s overzealous underlings? I don’t think I’ve watched any other stuff he’s appeared in. But I believe you sayin’ he has a nice body. That can’t possibly be a bad thing, ne? :-P)

  12. Peggy Says:

    Long time getting here EG. also have not seen this movie yet. Just wanted to say I agree totally with Jenny re the why and wherefore and ‘before’… for Goro having a complete blueprint to play this role.

    Goro makes a fine evil character. I always thought his early experiences had a bad effect on his whole life. He is an intellectual type so his imagination would run rife in any personal emotional times.
    too bad I think.

  13. motormannjay Says:

    I just watched the film tonight for the first time; it came highly recommended. It was slow at first but well worth the build up. I like many was very confused about the jungle guy coming back to life-rewind, rewind, rewind. And like you said a dual personality wouldn’t fit since others talked to him too. A mountain spirit maybe but it is all based on our speculation. My question is “has anyone, reporter or fan of the movie, ever interviewed the writer or director about what the mountain guy was?”.

  14. […] to be the brother of the current shogun. How evil is he? Let me borrow the description of this blogger right here just because I found it to be the proper way of describing this evil […]

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