There’s such a stigma for remakes, it seems that the moment one is announced the air around it is just charged with scepticism and people bemoaning that there are never any new ideas out there. I for one am not against remakes, after all films like Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments are superior remakes of older films. I find so long as the film makers are deciding on taking the adaptation of the older material in an interesting direction then by all means remake Seven Samurai or even Citizen Kane.
For a while there i was looking forward to what i hoped was going to be a trend of updating some of the old 60’s samurai flicks with modern production values and interesting new director visions. Takashi Miike certainly being a director that has an interesting (to say the least) world view. But it would appear that it ended with the release of 2011’s Hara Kiri: Death of a Samurai.
I will admit that i haven’t seen the original 13 Assassins and am guilty of not really wanting to, as the downgrade in production values would likely render it a boring experience for not much return (unless the original is significantly different in tone ala Hara Kiri and its remake).
A faithful shogunate retainer faces the choice of letting the shogun’s brother lord Naritsugu go on with his sadistic and shameful ways, or find some way of quietly disposing of him.
Most people who know me know that i’m a sucker for anything to do with samurai. It’s a moth to the flame scenario really however i do say that unashamedly. As a result anything having to do with them is going to immediately start out on my good side, and will have to work rather hard to leave it.
As for the actual film itself, i will cite it as an example of where a plot that functions almost entirely to give a reason for sword fights works for me. The entire plot is just the set up and execution of a deadly trap, and therefore things like characters only need to be given sufficient and believable motivations in order for me to go along.
Simple action films like this are only ever as good as how much you dislike the villain, and in lord Naritsugu we have a perfectly detestable person, but not in an over the top or unbelievable way. As everything he does is representative of a man who is so bored with his social position he has become completely detached from everything. A man like this kills in the hope of feeling anything to escape the numbness of life, and has been enabled to go to the absolute extremes to do so.
With such a detestable person as the antagonist for the film it really doesn’t take much to get people motivated to kill him and have us root for it to do so. More interesting though is the moral ambiguity it brings up with the Samurai code. Naritsugu’s retainers and body guards are absolutely loyal, not because they agree with him, or even like him (most of them would like to kill him as well) but because they understand that things like honour or personal morals are irrelevant to what a Samurai has to do at the end of the day; which is either to serve his master unquestionably, or die.
You know i will say that this film is also an example of having too much of a good thing. While it is a great thing to watch brutal Samurai action that is decently shot (instead of shaky cam garbage), when the scene itself takes up almost 45 minutes of a 2 hour movie it starts to wear a bit thin. I can only take so much slicing and dicing with one scene being more or less a repeat of the other before it all just turns into white noise. The heroic and prolonged deaths of all the assassins falls on unsympathetic ears as they are all mostly interchangeable and honestly not worth spending much time caring about.
While the moral ambiguity that gives a bit of meat to the proceedings is a welcome addition, this is certainly no Hara Kiri or Samurai Rebellion. Its focus on all things cool about samurai ends up romanticising that way of life instead of criticising it, and while there is nothing wrong with that in and of itself it leaves the film as a fairly shallow experience overall.
In the end what we have here in 13 Asassins is a fairly innocuous action movie, something that is released into theaters and is quickly buried and forgotten under higher profile projects. So i will have to judge it against its peers: Rambo, The Eagle, The One, Crimson Tide, and a host of other forgotten movies. To that end it rates rather good.
OUT OF FIVE