13 ASSASSINS: a Japanese slice and dice fest

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By Elkay Takhel

More often than not, many of us in our growing-up years had found ourselves caught up in make-believe games. Many a times, we were Katana-swinging Samurai or perhaps a Ninja. How we miss those times. Well this here’s a flick that spins the Samurai yarn once more and how exquisitely done.

The tone of the entire movie is set right at the beginning. At the very start, we are introduced to a gruesome scene wherein a person performs a disembowelment (seppuku) to state his grievance and opposition to the wrong/evil doings of the Lord Naritsugu who is soon to be promoted.

The Lord is Evil personified and we are made privy to this through various scenes depicting his numerous unspeakable acts of violence and cruelty. And it falls uponSir Doi to right this wrong. And how? Simple. Get a band of assassins together and make them do what they do best. So he summons Shimada, a veteran samurai in semi retirement and his “merry” band of a dozen sword-wielding friendlies.

Then we are led through various scenes of recruitment that we are so familiar with from countless other flicks of the like. But it is not just that. The director -Takashi Miike- takes his time and delicately yet with purpose introduces us to each one of the to-be assassins so that we are left with genuine people with unique personalities and not just hollow sword-bearing, kimono-attired characters. And this way we are made to know why they fight the way they fight or why they join up to the cause and why they act the way they do in the face of certain, inevitable death.

The story is very well told and is entertaining to the core. The director doesn’t rush us through things. He builds up the tempo of the film slowly and with care till it reaches its inevitable climactic end. The action scenes in the film are very well executed. Violence had never been so well choreographed (and of a very graphic nature too). But its not just mindless fight scenes like in many other Hollywood big budget ventures.Every slice made by the Katana through human flesh is with determination and purpose, and we are convinced because we have been thoroughly and carefully indoctrinated.

Period movies, at least the good ones, creates a portal through time through which we can see the things that have been. And well-made Samurai films set in olden Japan always brings with them the whole bundle of rich culture, fierce determined personalities, traditional dresses and rituals, uniquely memorable characters and beautifully choreographed sword fights.

In one scene, at the beginning of the story, the leader of the gang of assassins- Shimada, is called for by Sir Doi- the conspirator. He is told why he should do what is asked of him. He is convinced through words and through the surviving remnants of Naritsugu’s “fun.” And, Shimada, the  quite, semi-retired old-ish veteran, on seeing these is overcome with hatred . His once idle eyes comes to life and burn up like coal stoked by Sir Doi’s words and light up the room lit only by a singular paper lantern. Such a good actor he is, that we feel the anger rising in him and are almost burnt by his tangible fury and we are with him through every change of emotions on his fierce countenance

The story, the direction, the acting and the overall execution are so good that we start believing that 13 vs. 200 is not an improbability, that the 13 through their relentless fighting, through their never say die attitude and through their years of training can be successful in their suicide mission.

So next time, when in the mood to let off some steam or when you are out to pick up a well directed action flick with a very good storyline and awesome acting and some thoroughly well-executed swordsmanship, or maybe when you are vying for blood (and there are tonnes of it), go for this one instead.

As for me, I have been revisiting this film once every two months. And with every visit, I have been thoroughly satisfied and never left wanting. The only catch being, this is strictly an adult venture (for the violence) and also for the literate (japanese spoken language, English subtitles J).

Other than that, you couldn’t ask for more from an action-drama.

Enjoy! Arigato.

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