Directed by Takashi Miike
Written by Kaneo Ikegami & Daisuke Tengan
Late in Japan's feudal era the reigning Shogun has chosen as his successor a younger brother whose sadistic and amoral nature guarantees that the country will descend into chaos and war under his leadership. Among the Shogun's administrative officials it is decided that the chosen heir, Lord Naritsugu, must not be allowed to rise to power. Yet challenging the appointed future Shogun would be an act of self-destruction. In order to stop Naritsugu, and to avenge the families he has brutalized, a senior official secretly gathers a group of samurai to try to track and kill Naritsugu.
Koji Yakusho, in a role every bit as stirring and iconic as Rooster Cogburn in True Grit). It is his commitment to balancing the scales of justice which inspires the samurai who follow him into what may prove to be both a suicidal and unsuccessful quest.
Now and then a great revenge movie comes along to both express and assuage the outrage that remains after an era of extreme moral compromise. This one is courtesy of the master filmmaker Takashi Miike. There is no obvious political statement in the film, but there is a clear moral imperative. In the world of 13 Assassins those who use their power to harm the powerless, and their exemption from scrutiny to behave with dishonor and cruelty, are considered the lowest of human creatures.
Miike knows horror. Not just its formal conventions but its source, deep in the protected recesses of our imagination. Whatever horrific act we can imagine, someone has surely committed for reasons too shamefully selfish to justify.
13 Assassins is listed in the IMDb as Miike's eighty-first directorial project. His mastery of cinematic form and storytelling is everywhere apparent in this period action film. From the first frame to the last, his precise attention to detail rewards the viewer with indelible images. Some of those images are horrific and some are profoundly spiritual. All are in the service of a heartbreaking tale of dishonorable conduct and moral vengeance that audiences can enjoy as pure entertainment and as a balm to the casualties and calamities of our time.