4 out of 5
Director: Takashi Miike
13 Assassins has a few things going on for a few different type of movie watchers: you get epic scope, fairly straight-forward character setup, and an explosion-laden samurai battle for those needing a digestible, respectable foreign film; you get a new Takashi Miike movie; you get a remake and tribute to some classic movies. Having not seen the original 13 Assassins, I cannot comment on the remake aspect, but on all other accounts this movie succeeds, and for Miike fans show his adaptability to the changing world of Japanese cinema for his tastes. The plot, though well-told and paced, is pretty simple: a bad guy is coming to power, and as he cannot be directly challenged, a secret band of 13 assassins is arranged to take out said baddy before he can grab the reigns. The very beginnings of the film (say the first 15 minutes) seem the choppiest, with an attempt to show the seriousness of the situation and to introduce the important people feeling like the story had already begun and the story-tellers were uncertain how to drop us into it. But as the assassins band together, things get amazing. Theres much for Miike fans here – many of his tropes pop up and this is a much more polished spectacle than his Western Django experiment. Furthermore, even with a seeming huge budget and a fairly set dramatic tone, the camerawork and emotions pay off big time – during the long battle that is the last 3rd of the movie, several moments had my jaw on the ground, both affected by the way things were depicted as well as what was depicted. It gets a little CGIish, but its kept to a minimum, and the problem of matching so many characters to personalities has been long washed away by many excellent, small scenes by this point. The last few moments but us firmly back in Miike territory. 13 Assassins is probably not American enough to give Miike a wider audience than he already has here, but fans should not be disappointed by his deft handling of a serious epic.