Set in the waning years of Japan’s Tokugawa shogunate, 13 Assassins is an action-revenge film that reaches for prestige but unfortunately falls short.
It under-invests in its protagonists — most of whom are samurai in name only who have never had a real purpose — and pits them against the sadistic shogun’s brother Naritsugu, played by Gorô Inagaki, whose cruelty is so over the top that he makes Ramsay Snow from Game of Thrones more sympathetic by comparison.
The first half of the movie mostly didn’t work for me, setting up the gang and the villain, and setting them on a collision course; the second half is dominated by a long fight scene with good choreography and enough cool moments to hold my interest, but not enough variety to prevent me pausing to check on how much time was left, repeatedly.
It didn’t escape my notice that the women in this film have nothing to do except get assaulted, murdered, or assaulted and then murdered. Like many American westerns and other Japanese samurai media, 13 Assassins seems to pine for a time when “men were real men,” a nostalgic myth I have little interest in entertaining.