Entertainment & Arts

Movie review: ’13 Assassins’

Few filmmakers juxtapose cruelty and beauty as audaciously as Japan’s Takashi Miike. A master director with great style and panache, Miike’s latest, “13 Assassins,” is a classic samurai movie, right up there among the finest in the genre. A remake of a black-and-white 1963 picture of the same name, “13 Assassins” is a heartfelt homage to the form at a time when Japanese feudal period films are an increasing rarity.

The time is 1844, just 23 years before the shogunate — the military dictatorship that ruled Japan for centuries — would crumble and the imperial throne would be restored to power. The current shogun has legitimized his half-brother, Lord Naritsugu Matsudaira (Goro Inagaki), a sadist so crazed he can no longer be ignored by the shogun’s minister of justice, who is also a great samurai, Shinzaemon Shimada (veteran star Koji Yakusho).

Shinzaemon decides that his only course of action is to round up a dozen samurai and ambush Naritsugu as he travels to Edo with his vast retinue.

Tension and suspense build, climaxing in a bravura 45-minute battle sequence. Along the way Miike works in some comic relief as he contemplates the ironies of the code of the samurai, which demands bravery and self-sacrifice but also utter fealty to one’s master. But in challenging the blind allegiance of a madman’s warriors, Shinzaemon and his men defy their code for the good of the people.


— Kevin Thomas

“13 Assassins.” No MPAA rating. In Japanese with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours, 6 minutes. At the Nuart, West Los Angeles, and the South Coast Village 3, Santa Ana.

Get our daily Entertainment newsletter

Get the day's top stories on Hollywood, film, television, music, arts, culture and more.

You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.