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Film / 13 Assassins

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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 Matsudaira 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?


Provides examples of:

  • All for Nothing: There's a underlying sense of meaninglesness as people die for such a unworthy man as Lord Naritsugu. One of the running points of the film is how pointless the samurai life is.
  • Arc Words: "Total Massacre" is the message written by the maimed peasant woman on a scroll of paper using a brush held in her teeth (because she has no limbs or tongue). It is used to refer to both the sins of Lord Naritsugu or what the 13 Assassins are about to do to him.
  • Annoying Arrows: Averted. The 13 Assassins are all fully trained marksmen and kill 70 men by bow and arrow before the main combat begins.
  • Asshole Victim: Considering Naritsugu's horrible deeds, nobody feels sorry for him when he is killed by Shinzaemon.
  • 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.
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  • 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 whose traps.
  • Big Bad: Lord Naritsugu Matsudaira is the tyrannical and psychotic younger brother of the Shogun whom the titular assassins are attempting to kill before he ruins the land.
  • 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.
  • Blade Lock: Features a couple times, but mildly deconstructed; each time it is used it essentially opens up one of its participants to an attack from behind. In fact, the first time one of the 13 assassins is wounded is when using a blade lock.
  • Blood Knight: Shinzaemon is so thrilled that he has been chosen for a suicidal assassination mission that he starts trembling with ecstacy. And he's the hero!
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Kuranaga is a mighty warrior who is frequently making jokes and in general being good humoured.
  • Briefcase Full of Money: The assassins get the population of the village they plan to turn into a kill zone to vacate the area by handing over a chest of gold.
  • The Caligula: Naritsugu is a completely unhinged feudal lord.
  • 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."
  • The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: After a pitched battle with hundreds of casualties that leaves a small town in utter ruins and the Shogun's brother in two pieces, the official record states that Lord Naritsugu died of a sudden illness.
  • Deconstruction: The film takes a hammer to the feudal morality and traditionalism of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Bushido and the Samurai are also completely skewered. In both cases, the traditions are shown as ultimately pointless and cause more harm than good.
  • 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 Hanbei 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.
  • Dirty Coward: Zig-Zagged with Lord Naritsugu. Throughout much of the film, he is excited by the prospect of battle, happily walking into ambushes and dangerous situations. After Shinzaemon stabs him, he writhes in agony and whines about how he doesn't want to die. But as Shinzaemon approaches him for the final blow, he suddenly calms down and thanks his killer for showing him such an exciting day. Ultimately, while he was inexperienced and in love with the concept of battle, actual pain and hardship were too much for him at first, but he finally was satisfied that he at least got a taste of warfare in his final moments.
  • 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. Fitting then, that when Shinzaemon does behead him, his head falls into an outhouse..
  • Dual Wielding: Hirayama wields two katanas in the famous "hallway of swords" sequence.
  • Dwindling Party: Things quickly go south for the 13 Assasins. Not all of them make it out. In fact, only one (possibly two).
  • 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:
  • Everyone Has Standards: Despite having just killed Hanbei, Shinzaemon is appalled at Naritsugu callously kicking his head away like a soccer ball.
  • 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: Shimada and his men often justify what they're doing as being for the good of the people.
  • 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.
  • Gambit Pile Up: The middle act of the film consists of Hambei and Shinzaemon scheming and counter-scheming to try to influence the next move.
  • The Ghost: The Shogun never appears, but his refusal to punish his brother for his misdeeds (and even offer him a promotion to his inner council) is what causes the rest of his councilors to plot Naritsugu's death before the promotion becomes effective.
  • 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.
  • Hate Sink: Lord Naritsugu Matsudaira is a sadist who uses his position as the Shogun's half-brother to rape and murder his way across Japan. His atrocities are so severe that various lords are plotting a rebellion just to take him out. When cooler heads set some assassins on Naritsugu to prevent this, Naritsugu is enamored by the carnage and decides to become Shogun and plunge the country into civil war for his own amusement.
  • The Hero Dies: Shinzaemon is stabbed in the stomach by Naritsugu 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: These are 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.
  • Jidaigeki: 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.
  • Laughing Mad: One of Lord Naritsugu's men comes stumbling out of the slaughter, laughing as he takes a few wild swings at his fellow samurai before being put down. Naritsugu is delighted and announces that he will start an age of war once he is on the Shogun's council.
  • Master Swordsman: Hirayama, Shinzaemon, Kuranaga and Hanbei are all brilliant swordsmen.
  • Mass "Oh, Crap!": A slow panic takes over the team when they are told that Naritsugu's guard aren't 70 men, but 200. They later pay Naritsugu and his men in kind when the trap is finally sprung.
  • 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 through official channels 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. The initial impression is reinforced by the fact that for all his earlier butchery of the defenseless, over the course of the final battle, he spends most of it calmly strolling around while his men do all the fighting. He doesn't even draw his sword until the spoilered moment.
  • Off with His Head!: This is how Shinzaemon kills both Hanbei and Naritsugu.
  • 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 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.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Naritsugu's evil is first demonstrated by a tale of him staying the night in a minor lord's home, where he rapes his host's daughter-in-law and murders her husband on a whim.
  • Rated M for Manly: Absolutely everything in this movie.
  • 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.
  • Rōnin: Hirayama and Sahara.
  • Rule of Cool: The final battle runs on this.
  • Road Block: The assassins arrange for a lord with a grudge against Naritsugu to deny him passage through his lands in order to force him to detour through the village where they have planted their ambush.
  • Run for the Border: Everyone on both sides knows that once Naritsugu gets to his own lands, Hambei can surround him with enough men to make assassination impossible. So the second arc of the film is Hambei trying to get his lord home before the assassins can strike, while the assassins seek to maneuver him into a prepared kill zone while he's only protected by a large but theoretically beatable honor guard.
  • Sadist: Lord Naritsugu Matsudaira, the shogun's half-brother who goes around raping and murdering as he pleases and decides he's gonna take the shogunate and plunge his country into civil war for no reason.
  • Samurai: Most of the protagonists, except for Kiga.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: The reason Naritsugu can get away with the horrible things he does is due to being the Shogun's younger brother.
  • See You in Hell: a surprisingly touching one between Hambei and Shinzaemon, where it comes of more like "I'll be joining you in Hell soon".
  • Seppuku: Happens twice. Once at the very beginning of the story, and once by a conspirator after his part in the plot is over, to cover up that his actions, which were intended to lure the Shogun's brother to his death, were part of a murder plot.
  • Severed Head Sports: Naritsugu kicks his bodyguard Hambei's head like a soccer ball after Shinzaemon kills the latter.
  • Starts with a Suicide: A seppuku kicks the plot in motion.
  • Student and Master Team: Hirayama (the master) and Ogura (the student) are a master and apprentice duo who fight together.
  • 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, considering his vaguely supernatural connections with the river and likely return from the dead.
  • Team Title: The movie is, indeed, about a team of 13 Assassins.
  • 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.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Lord Naritsugu was real historical figura, a heir to the shogunate known for his petty cruelty (though nowhere near as cruel as the character in the film) who died in unclear circumstances (most likely simply poisoned) on his way back from Edo. Otherwise the film is fictional.
  • 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 eventually 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.
    • Naritsugu has an even bigger breakdown as he lies dying in the mud, sobbing and whining that he doesn't want to die. Strangely enough, he then subverts it at the last second by thanking Shinzaemon for giving him such an exciting day.
  • Weapon of Choice: Everyone wields Katanas, by and large, with the exception of two: Sahara (who wields a spear, as he points out he's not a good swordsman) and Kiga (who wields a sling to throw stone and as an improvised flail).
  • What Is This Feeling?: Pain, for Naritsugu.
  • World of Badass: Hell yes.
  • Worthy Opponent: Hanbei and Shinzaemon view each other as honorable men despite being at crossed purposes.
  • You Shall Not Pass!: Several characters place themselves between their companions and Naritsugu's forces.
  • 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.