Sifting Through Netflix: Apparently “13 Assassins” is Just Enough to Take Down an Evil Warlord

With Sifting Through Netflix, we give you an opportunity to hear our thoughts on some popular movies available on Netflix Instant. Are they worth your time to stick on your queue or should they be overlooked? This time around, we have the Japanese film “13 Assassins”!

I’ve always had a lot of respect for and interest in Japanese culture, whether it has to do with the excessively honorable code of Bushido that the ancient Samurai lived and died by, my unending love for sushi, or my curiosity for capsule hotels (Google them; it’s crazy hysterical!). The cinema that comes out of their culture paints a portrait that is simultaneously wrought with an unyielding sense of honor, but it’s also intensely perverse at times. I always think of the critically acclaimed “Old Boy”, which is so epically grotesque and infused with such incestuous and violent overtones, and yet, it still retains the echoes of ancient honor.

I realized all of this in the opening scene of “13 Assassins”, where we see a Japanese lord commit ritualistic suicide by disemboweling himself. You wouldn’t think such a horrific form of suicide could be done with grace, dignity, and honor. The idea is bizarre to the Western culture: better to face a self-inflicted and honorable death than live on to disgrace one’s name, family, and country after failing in some way. It might sound a bit harsh, and it is by modern standards across the world, but opening the film with that scene is a brilliant way to rip away at a wrinkle in time and usher us back into a different era.

In the peaceful Japan of the 1840s, the Samurai are waning. Waging battle is an art that is hardly practiced anymore. Enter Lord Naritsugu, the brother to the shogun (military dictator and effective ruler of Japan) who basically gets to do whatever the heck he wants. Naritsugu has an insatiable appetite for all things cruel, creating a swath of destruction, rape, and murder wherever he goes. Before long, he angers enough people that the Samurai master Shinzaemon is called upon to assassinate Lord Naritsugu. Much the beginning of “13 Assassins” is somewhat boring dialogue as Shinzaemon collects an assortment of warriors to aid him. About half the group are carbon copies of one another: Samurai in dark clothing. Sure, there’s a boyish one, there’s Shinzaemon’s nephew, and Shinzaemon’s former (and incredibly badass) pupil, but there are also 4 or so Samurai that never really get much screen time at all. The remaining few include a strange bandit and a spear for hire, each who add a unique character to the mix, but I almost wish there was a more “Ocean’s Eleven” variety feel to it.

At the end of the day, “13 Assassins” delivers exactly what it promises. 13 assassins develop a hardcore plan to not only kill Naritsugu, but also to take out his entourage of several hundred soldiers. It’s a Samurai-filled bloodbath, and just about everybody dies. It’s pretty epic and rather well-acted, but it didn’t “wow” me beyond its ability to show me some awesomely manly and honorable fight scenes. It’s a good movie to bro out to and I’d imagine rather easy to make into a drinking game. If you’re in the mood for either one, definitely check it out, because as far as samurai films go, “13 Assassins” is about as good as it gets!