13 Assassins

The samurai age is waning in 13 Assassins, and good riddance to it. Takashi Miike’s epic, rousing action film is a potshot at the lionized way of the samurai, suggesting that their vaunted obsession with duty and personal honor came at the expense of their humanity. “I’ve been looking for a noble death” says a character early on, relieved to be conscripted into a suicide mission to kill a murderous lord — and this may be the first movie to ever view that kind of statement as sinister rather than admirable. What kind of person sits around trying to contrive a way to die?

13 Assassins is somewhat of a surprise from Japanese provocateur Miike — a methodically focused adventure without so much as a subplot to be found. Miike channels his energy into the action, specifically the nearly hour-long melee that concludes the film as the titular assassins trap their quarry (the evil lord and his 200-strong entourage) in an evacuated town. My eyes started to glaze over by the end, but a bit of overkill aside, this is a gorgeous, technically flawless production, with a subversive bent I wasn’t expecting.

-- Eugene Novikov

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