Released by AnimEigo
Released on: June 5, 2012.
Directed by: Eiichi Kudo
Starring: Chiezo Kataoka, Koutaro Satomi, Kanjyuro Arashi, Ko Nishimura, Ryohei Uchida
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Coming to review this DVD I was more familiar - and an unabashed fan - of Takashi Miike’s 2010 remake of 13 Assassins. And so I was very curious as to what the differences would be and what elements carried over between the two films.
Fortunately, for sake of writing and reading this review, nearly all of the plot points are identical between the two versions of this story: Minor official Shinza (Kataoka) is enlisted by the Elder Council to dispose of the just downright malevolently evil half-brother of the Shogun, Prince Naritsugu. The prince is guarded by Shinza’s longtime rival opponent Hanbei (Uchida) over a long route from Edo back to his home province. So Shinza gathers his small team and waits to see how this will play out best.
The drawn-out waiting is covered in both versions of the film, as is the lengthy assassination at the end of the film (:30 min. in length here versus roughly :45 min. in the newer version). The majority of the characters are fairly identical and identifiable, too.
But whereas Miike’s version really drew out what it was that made these men on a suicide mission tick - and showing their subsequent explosion - Kudo instead takes a more pragmatic approach, that the characters are doing what’s appropriate for their station, at that time, and almost passively embrace their finality with stoic determination. That’s not a knock against this original version, either - it’s just a fascinating difference in temperament dictated perhaps by the very different social climes the two versions were made during. And so the conclusions the characters reach in the original seem much more fitting in that place and time. The samurai are still noble, still honest about their lives and fate here, keeping them as tragic characters who choose to embrace their fatalistic destiny as an inevitability that provides meaning and purpose to their existence.
This DVD from AnimEigo is presented simply but very well, carrying its anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1 ratio quite nicely. Sure, it has some display blockiness in this black & white film when it comes to the foggy morning of the assassination itself but the transfer is so very clean that’s to be forgiven. Likewise, the Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is very capable of handling all noise here and isn’t tested too deeply so the balance is very nice. The spoken audio here is Japanese only with some very good subtitling options: Full subs, including captions that describe different terms used in the movie at the top of the screen, in both white or yellow; dialog-only subs in white or yellow; and caption-only subs, if you’d really like to nerd out.
The extras are rounded out with two trailers for the film, bios of the director, writer, and a couple of the actors, detailed program notes that talk about the success and impact of the film, an image gallery and a trailer for another AnimEigo title, Sword of Desperation.
While missing some of the more involved character development and outright carnage of Miike’s 2010 remake the original 13 Assassins is still an exciting, engaging large-scale samurai movie, as near the top of the list as it can get.