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Laramie Movie Scope:
13 Assassins

A viciously violent killing field of samurai within a gory abattoir

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by Patrick Ivers, Film Critic
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(2010; Jsan-nin no shikaku, Japanese) In March 1844, the waning of the samurai era during a period of peace in feudal Japan, fearing the ruin of the Shogunate if Lord Naritsugu Matsudaira (Gor Inagaki), the Shogun's sadistic younger brother and adopted son of the former Shogun, becomes a member of the ruling council, senior advisor Sir Doi (Mikijiro Hira) to save face in the scandal seeks a solution in Shinzaemon Shimada (Kji Yakusho), a samurai in search of a noble cause for which he may honorably give his life.

Among the lustful, dishonorable acts Lord Naritsugu has committed are the rape of the bride of Yukie Makino's son followed by the murder of the son a year earlier in Kiso, the cutting off of the limbs and tongue of the daughter (making her into his sexual plaything) of a peasant leader followed by the massacre of her family, the sport of killing his servants and their child with bow and arrows.

Shinzaemon gathers together eleven samurai - including his student Hirayama (Tsuyoshi Ihara); his nephew Shinrokuro (Takayuki Yamada), who had abandoned being a samurai for gambling; the orphan Ogura; Sahara, motivated by money - with the intention of attacking Lord Naritsugu with his large entourage after he departs Edo but before he reaches the Akashi domain.

Realizing this suicide mission is a "long shot," Shinza, having "faith in luck," says to Shirokuro: "I go for broke and bet it all." Beginning with an act of hara-kiri, director Takashi Miike's grisly drama (Daisuke Tengan's script is based on Kaneo Ikegami's screenplay) becomes a viciously violent killing field within a gory abattoir.

While taking a shortcut through a dense forest, the samurai lose their way; but fortunately they come upon Koyata Kiga (Ysuke Iseya), a curious fellow who offers to guide them to their destination. Though not a samurai, he becomes the thirteenth assassin, supplying occasions of comic relief and an amazing feat at the conclusion.

Counting on Makino's hatred for Lord Naritsugu to ban passage through Kiso, diverting his troops toward Ochiai, Shinza, waiting for the fish to swallow the hook inside the bait, sets up an ambush. When Lord Naritsugu arrives with samurai Hanbei Kitou (Masachika Ichimura) - unlike Shinza, his equal when they trained together at the dojo, devoting himself to his master rather than to the people - having in the meantime tripled his force to more than 200 warriors, the butchering begins as Shinza's men, winnowing down the enemy with a withering assault from above of arrows of arrows, to even odds of ten to each samurai.

The dialogue employs numerous English clichs, such as "Ours is not to question why " and "See you in hell."

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Copyright © 2011 Patrick Ivers. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Patrick Ivers can be reached via e-mail at nora's email address at juno. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

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