After seeing 13 Assassins on our New Movie Hot Seat poll, this foreign film appeared as though it could be a summer hit. What could be the key to achieving that success? After taking a closer look. It turns out it was produced by Toshiaki Nakazawa, who won an Oscar for best foreign film (Departures 2009) and Jeremy Thomas who has a talent for breaking Asian films into the mainstream market. The Last Emperor, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence are just two of his well know break throughs. Also, it stars Koji Yakusho, who was in Silk (2007), Babel (2006) and perhaps his best-known role in the Western world, Nobu in Memoirs of a Geisha (2005). That’s a pretty good start! So what is the movie about?
13 Assassins opened in theatres on April 29th, 2011 and is a remake of the film Jusan-nin no shikaku made in 1963 and based on a true story. The film is set in the final years of Feudal Japan. The Feudal period lasted from 1185A.D.-1868A.D. During this era people were divided into four groups. Peasants were the lowest of the social rank, next up were the samurai, who were the warriors that made up the army. Further up the social ladder were the Daimyo. They were the rulers of their province and were very powerful as they had control over the military and economics of their area. Finally, at the top of the pile was The Emperor, a figurehead with little power and the Shogun, who was the leader of the military and had the most amount of power.
The story starts with Daimyo, the sadistic Lord Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki) who is a murderer and a rapist, being called to the Imperial capital to be made a second Shogun. However, his half-brother, also a Shogun, is not impressed. He may have protected his brother in the past but now that Naritsugu is moving up the social ladder and is loose cannon, he’s had enough. He orders his loyal assistance, Sir Doi (Mikijjro Hari) to find a way to kill his brother quietly. Sir Doi hires a samurai Shinzaemon Shimada (Koji Yakusho), to lead the attack with 12 other Samurai assassins. It will not be easy because a strong 200 men army surrounds Lord Narritsugu.
So if 13 Assassins wet’s your appetite, are there any other well-known Jidaigeki (period drama’s usually set in the Feudal era) films? Yes there is!
Seven Samurai (1954) – When bandits raid a village, then make plans to come back later and steal the last of the crops harvested. The villagers reach out to a veteran Samurai, who enlists the help of six other Samurai, to teach the villages how to fight in return for food. It was nominated for two Oscars and three Baftas. The film The Magnificent Seven (1960) was adapted from this movie and it went on to win an Oscar for Best Music, Scoring of a Drama or Comedy Picture. 
Throne of Blood (1957) – A Japanese version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. It takes place in Medieval Japan, with two Samurai commanders (Washizu and Miki) are returning to their Lord’s castle after defeating his enemies; they encounter a spirit who tells them their futures. When they arrive at the castle, the first part of the prophecy comes true. Washizu’s wife then pushes him to make the second part come true, no matter what the cost is.
Ran (1985) – Based on Samurai legends and Shakespeare’s King Lear, Lord Hidetora Ichimonji decides to abdicate and divides the land between his three sons. The two eldest brothers plot to strip everything left in the Lord’s procession, the youngest brother warns him but is banished. Soon the Lord realises his son was right. The movie was nominated for four Oscars, winning one for Best Costume Design. It also was nominated for one Cesar Awards (France), one Golden Globe and five Baftas, winning two for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Make Up Artist.
Shogun Assassin (1980) – A paranoid Shogun attempts to kill his Samurai warrior, despite the Samurai’s loyal serving of him. He sends his ninjas to kill him but they failed and killed his wife instead. The Samurai swears to avenge her death and so sets of with his son on a quest for revenge. The film is mentioned in Kill Bill 2, in the scene where The Bride watches it with her daughter at bedtime.
The Last Samurai (2003) – If you prefer big Hollywood films, this one is for you! It stars Tom Cruise as an American Civil War veteran (Nathan Algren) who is sent to Japan to train its troops in modern warfare. Despite his attempt to train them, they are still sent into battle still inexperienced in the new weapons. A shot taken too early sees them overrun by the enemies while reloading. Algren stays and fights bravely with his troops, but after being badly wounded, he is captured by the enemy. His courage to stay and fight saves his life. While being taken care of Algren slowly swayed by the Samurai ways and soon he has to make a difficult choice as to which side he will fight for. It was nominated for four Oscars and three Golden Globes.