It is testament to the grandeur of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai that even its remakes get remakes (there are two Magnificent Sevens and two 13 Assassins) while the original title is actually left alone. So far at least.
Loosely based on true events, Takashi Miike’s 2010 actioner sees 13 assassins take on a warlord (Gorō Inagaki) so sadistic it should be called Se7en Samurai. He spends his days using children as target practice and cutting off women’s limbs and tongues, safe in the knowledge that his Shōgun half-brother will overlook his trail of murder, rape and subsequent suicides – and that’s just in the first 10 minutes.
The film then settles into a Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven/Ocean’s Eleven mid-section where a veteran samurai (Kōji Yakusho) assembles a crack team of assassins for a suicide mission against the warlord and his army. “Our quality outshines our quantity,” quips the small band of samurai; ironic for a director who made 100 films in 25 years. Yet compared with some of the wackier Miike movies, this relatively conventional picture cuts through with more traditional action fans.
It does however invite comparison to Kurosawa’s masterpiece. Although the 1954 classic is an hour longer and in black and white, 13 Assassins drags more with less colourful characters. Instead of introducing them in Kurosawa’s varied and visual strokes, Miike mainly has them discuss the nature of duty, which is philosophically interesting but does keep you waiting for the Shõgunate showdown.
And it does not disappoint. Miike delivers a 50-minute battle sequence comprising 200 foes, a man wielding a rock in a sock, and bulls on fire (charging down the road). So if you get your rocks off to bravura bloodshed, 13 proves lucky for some. Plus if Seven Samurai and 47 Ronin disproved any correlation between number of ronin and quality of film, 13 Assassins puts the nail in the coffin.