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Film: 13 Assassins

13 Assassins is a 2010 chanbara film from director Takashi Miike. That itself is a remake of a 1963 film by Eiichi Kudo, but we're not talking about that one here.

The setting is Feudal Japan, 1844. Lord Naritsugu is the younger brother of the shogun, which affords him the unchallenged right to murder, rape, torture, and mutilate on a whim. After a high-ranking official protests Naritsugu's latest outrage by publicly committing seppuku, a conspiracy is formed within the shogun's senior council to eliminate Naritsugu before his madness plunges the entire nation into anarchy. A veteran samurai named Shinzaemon is recruited to accomplish the suicidal task, assembling a ragtag group of twelve warriors (plus one enigmatic vagrant) for one last chance at an honorable death in an age of peace. They quickly transform a sleepy little village into a booby-trap-laden killing ground, preparing to ambush their target before he reaches the safety of his estate. But even with surprise and skill on their side, can the small group of assassins possibly hope to prevail against Naritsugu's private army of more than 200 soldiers? In a word? Yes.

Provides examples of:

  • Badass: All of the assassins, but especially Hirayama (who kills a bunch of Naritsugu's guards with an entire alleyway full of swords) and the vagrant Kiga (who takes down plenty more guards with nothing but a sling and a few impromptu clubs).
  • Badass Boast: Shinzaemon calls out Naritsugu and his guards by unrolling a scroll with the words "Total Massacre" written on it, by Naritsugu's former sex slave no less. They succeed in fulfilling this boast.
  • Badass Normal: Kiga really doesn't appreciate being underestimated just because he's not a samurai.
  • Battle of Wits: The entire first half of the film is more or less Hanbei and Shinzaemon matching efforts to see who'll fall into who's traps.
  • Big Bad: Lord Naritsugu, with an emphasis on "Bad".
  • Big Badass Battle Sequence: One that continues unbroken for over 40 minutes.
  • Bittersweet Ending: 11 of the 13 die, but they succeed in their mission and the last of them is redeemed and free to live his own life.
  • Blade on a Stick: Sahara's specialty is the yari.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Kuranaga is a mighty warrior who is frequently making jokes and in general being good humoured.
  • The Caligula: Naritsugu.
  • Combat Pragmatist: In training, Hirayama (who studied under Shinzaemon) instructs the others to win a fight by any means necessary, and to inflict as much damage as possible in case they die. Shinzaemon himself wins his final duel with Hanbei by kicking mud in Hanbei's face and attacking while he's distracted.
  • Conservation of Ninjutsu: Twelve of the thirteen are either more experienced than most of the army, or were trained by someone who is (Kiga, the thirteenth, is just a brawler, and probably isn't even human). Hanbei provides far more of a one-on-one challenge than any of his troops. Kiga lampshades this during the final battle:
    "I thought samurai would be fun! But you bore me. You're useless. Even more useless in great numbers."
  • Deliberate Injury Gambit: Shinzaemon's final duel with Naritsugu, resulting in a Mutual Kill. Played with in that, given Shinzaemon's stated motivations going into the battle and his obviously superior skill level, it's clear that receiving a fatal injury was an end unto itself for him, rather than a means to an end.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Lord Naritsugu is a subversion. He claims to simply be upholding Japanese traditions (which are already somewhat Values Dissonance for modern Japan) but does so in a way that's not only distorted but horribly repulsive. No wonder the Shogunate wants him dead.
  • The Determinator: Shinzaemon, which is why Hembe is so worried about him being an assassin. Shinzaemon is cautious, smart, and never overplays his hand, seeing things through to the end with patience.
  • Dissonant Serenity: Save for a couple instances, Naritsugu is this.
  • Driven to Suicide: Multiple instances of seppuku, including one which kicks off the whole plot.
  • Due to the Dead: Naritsugu earns more bastard points by kicking Hanbei's head like a soccer ball after Hanbei had given his life to protect Naritsugu. When Shinzaemon calls him on this, Naritsugu invites him to do the same to his own head.
  • Dual Wielding
  • Dwindling Party
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Far too many to count, but particular props go to Kuranaga, who collapses dead from sheer exhaustion after slaughtering several dozens of men as the city collapses around him.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Shinzaemon is introduced while fishing, doubles as Pastimes Prove Personality and is an example of Foreshadowing. Naritsugu is introduced raping a woman for no particular reason and later murdering her husband also for no reason while making cruel jokes.
  • Face Death with Dignity: The samurai use this as a code of honor. Guess who didn't face his death with dignity?
  • Foreshadowing: Early in the film, Hirayama instructs the lesser samurai: "No sword? Use a stick. No stick? Use a rock. No rock? Fight with your fists and feet." He and his student end up using those exact tactics in the final battle.
  • For Great Justice
  • For the Evulz: Why does Naritsugu do what he does? Just because. He knows how powerful he is and proceeds to abuse it like there's no tomorrow.
  • Friendly Enemy: Shinzaemon and Hanbei were students together, and greatly respect each others' abilities.
  • Genre Savvy: Naritsugu knows enough to realize his life is in danger. He just doesn't care.
  • Go Out with a Smile: Kuranaga.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Surprising, given the director's reputation, but the first half of the movie uses quite a few of these. They make the violence in the second half feel that much more brutal by comparison.
  • Greater Good: the reason for most of the plot. Hambei serves an evil master because he doesn't want to overthrow the shogunate, and Shinzaemon has to take a suicide mission to stop thousands of needless deaths.
  • Gut Punch: The first of the deaths out of the 13 is the signal that things are about to get very, very ugly.
  • The Hero Dies: Shinzaemon himself at the end.
  • Heroic RROD: Kuranaga dies when, after a long battle against some fifty men, his wounds and exhaustion catch up to him and he just collapses dead.
  • Honor Before Reason: This is Samurai we are talking about, so it shows up a lot. Particularly Hambei, who is quite aware his Lord is batshit insane, but proudly defends him because it's his duty.
  • I Know You Know I Know: When Hambei and Sinzaemon meet in the latter's house, the subtext of their conversation is basically "I know you're going to kill Naritsugu, and you know I know you're going to kill Naritsugu".
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Kiga. There may be a very good reason for this.
  • Incendiary Exponent: Stampeding bulls. On fire.
  • Infant Immortality: Played with in Naritsugu's "target practice" scene: his last remaining target is a little girl, but he keeps missing her. Eventually averted.
  • Jidai Geki: The story is set towards the tail end of the Edo period. Its themes foreshadow the changes and turmoil that would come as the Tokugawa Shogunate reaches its last legs.
  • Just Before the End: The age of the Samurai isn't over yet, but the decay of their ways is a heavy theme that looms over the film.
  • Kick the Dog: Happens just about every time Naritsugu is on screen, including kicking the severed head of his most loyal subordinate.
  • Kill 'em All: Only two of the Thirteen survive the battle at the end of the film. Still better than Naritsugu and his forces, who all end up dead.
  • Master Swordsman: Hirayama, Shinzaemon, Kuranaga and Hanbei.
  • Mass "Oh, Crap!"
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Kiga, the thirteenth assassin, is an ex-bandit who gets kicked out of his crew for touching his boss's wife. Or so he claims. The point of view of his flashback to the event, his Unexplained Recovery moment, and the first supposition of the first twelve assassins indicate he might be a Tanuki or a Kappa. In an interview, the director also presented the possibility his appearance after the battle might be his ghost, but said that it's up to each viewer to decide what happened to him.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: Literally true, as trying to remove Naritsugu personally would only start a civil war, causing much more harm than good. Assassinating him is the only way to deal with him.
  • My Master, Right or Wrong: Hanbei knows his lord is evil but is willing to fight to the death to protect him.
  • Not-So-Harmless Villain: Naritsugu is far from harmless, but he doesn't seem like much of a challenge, until he puts his sword through Kiga's throat.
  • Off with His Head!
  • Pillars of Moral Character: Hambei and Shinzaemon have different takes on this, but the end result is the same. Hambei must serve his lord (piety), The Shogun's chief must enforce his duty to the realm (obligation), Owari has to get vengeance for his son (reciprocity) and the Shinzaemon has to save innocent lives from needless war (compassion).
  • Power Walk: The assassins do this just before the battle.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The 13 Assassins range from proud war veterans (Shinza, Kuranaga), to loyal Samurai (Horii, Higuchi, Mitsuhashi, Ishizuka), to novices (Hioki, Otake, Ogura), a disgraced Samurai (Shimada), a few Ronin (Hirayama, Sahara) and a ragtag hunter (Kiga) who joins forces with the group.
  • Rated M for Manly
  • Redemption Quest: Shimada's goal is to redeem himself after he strayed from Bushido.
  • R-Rated Opening: The seppuku at the beginning is very nasty.
  • Ronin: Hirayama and Sahara.
  • Rule of Cool
  • Samurai
  • See You in Hell: a surprisingly touching one between Hambe and Shinzaemon, where it comes of more like "I'll be joining you in Hell soon".
  • Starts with a Suicide: A seppuku kicks the plot in motion.
  • Suicide Mission: None of the samurai expect to walk away from their assassination attempt on Naritsugu. Many of them are even counting on it, seeing this as their last opportunity to find a warrior's death on the battlefield in this era of peace.
  • Tanuki: Probably Kiga.
  • Tempting Fate: Kiga comments how boring this battle is and how weak the Samurai are. His neck is impaled by a sword the very second he finishes this comment.
  • To Create A Playground For Evil: After Naritsugu sees the carnage of war, he admits he would like to turn the lands into a never ending battlefield of strife.
  • Those Two Guys: Hioki and Higuchi.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: Naritsugu takes out the thirteenth assassin this way. Well, it puts the guy down for the rest of the battle, at least...
  • Unexplained Recovery: For all the explosions, elaborate traps and badassery, there's nothing to suggest any fantasy elements until Kiga, the 13th Assassin survives despite having a sword shot at his neck...and shows up after the battle, completely unharmed. The viewer is left wondering just who or what he is.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Naritsugu kicks Hambei's head after he sacrificed himself to protect him, which prompts Shinzaemon to call him out on this.
  • Values Dissonance: Japan doesn't have a problem with non-sexual nudity or children being naked. There's a long shot of a naked little boy, about 6, peeing in a ditch. This is a funny gag to Japanese Cinema (a similar joke would be picking your nose in the West) but it can be jarring to foreign audiences to whom "naked children" means "Pedo Hunt".
  • Villain Ball: A strong aversion, since Naritsugu clearly explains why he takes actions that put his life on the line with several villainous justifications. He's still a crazy sadist, but his character reasoning is spot on.
  • Villainous Breakdown: When Shinzaemon tells Naritsugu that if he keeps abusing his power, the people will enventually rise up and try to take him down. Naritsugu flips out and stabs Shinzaemon, only for the latter to stab the former with even more strength.
  • What Is This Feeling?: Pain, for Naritsugu.
  • World of Badass: Hell yes.
  • Worthy Opponent: Hanbei and Shinzaemon view each other as such.
  • You Shall Not Pass
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: During the assassination attempt, Naritsugu comments to Hanbei that he will use his position to start more wars because the fighting is so awesome. He also thanks Shinzaemon for giving him such an exciting day... while the man kills him.

Thermae RomaeJapanese FilmsThree Extremes
Temple GrandinFilms of the 2010sTies That Bind 2010

alternative title(s): Thirteen Assassins
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