13 Assassins

Stylish and gory Kurosawa homage slices its way onto Blu-ray

Is Japanese cinema’s enfant terrible finally growing up? To be honest, probably not. But 13 Assassins is undoubtedly Takashi (Audition, Ichi the Killer) Miike’s most assured and most mainstream film to date.

A classical samurai film very much in the Kurosawa mould, 13 Assassins tells the simple story of a small group of samurai facing overwhelming odds as they attempt to kill the current Shogun’s sadistic younger brother. All of which culminates in an astonishing 45-minute action sequence as the 13 assassins face off against more than 200 soldiers in a small town. It’s breathtaking stuff, brilliantly shot and fantastically choreographed, and it reaffirms Miike as one of cinema’s most exciting and unpredictable talents.

Picture: Once again Artificial Eye shows other world cinema distributors how to treat their wares on Blu-ray, delivering a marvellous hi-def version of Miike’s latest film that captures the original 35mm footage perfectly. The AVC 1.85:1 1080p encode favours a fine grain structure, deep, deep blacks that offer next to nothing in the way of shadow detail and muted colours – all of which is true of the source material. The clarity and sharpness of the image also assists with the limited lighting used throughout the film’s first two acts, ensuring that the image doesn’t just become a hazy mess during these scenes.
Picture rating: 4/5

Audio: The film’s Japanese-language DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack is every bit as good as the image quality (if not a little better). Given the structure of the film (two acts of careful build-up and a final act of non-stop action) the mix can basically be broken down into two parts. The first part is mainly concerned with dialogue, with surround use limited to atmospheric effects – all of which sounds fine, but is unlikely to get your heart racing. Then comes Chapter 8 and the start of the big battle, and everything changes. Arrows whistle past your head, explosions send your sub into overdrive and the screams of the dying surround you. It’s heady stuff, and brilliantly executed on Blu-ray.
Audio rating: 4/5

Extras: The Blu-ray serves up an interesting, but rather limited, collection of supplementary features. While the disc only features the shorter ‘international cut’ of the film, all of the extra footage that appeared in the Japanese cinema release is present in a 24min reel of Deleted Scenes. While a lot of it is just trims to existing scenes, there are some more substantial pieces including a scene where thieves try to rob Shinrokuro of his gambling winnings, and a comedic sequence focusing on Koyata’s sex drive. The latter turns out to be Miike’s personal highlight from the film according to a 19min interview with the filmmaker included on the disc. Finally there’s the UK trailer. All of the extras are presented in hi-def.
Extras rating: 2/5

We say: Miike’s superb samurai film cuts a fine figure in high definition

Artificial Eye, Region B BD, £20 approx, On sale now