13 Assassins (Blu-ray) (2010)

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Released 11-Jan-2012

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Deleted Scenes
Interviews-Crew-Director Takashi Miike
Gallery-Photo
Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-Wu Xing Collection x 6
More…-DTS-HD MA Audio Check
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2010
Running Time 125:10 (Case: 124)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Takashi Miike
Studio
Distributor
Icon Entertainment Starring Kōji Yakusho
Takayuki Yamada
Yūsuke Iseya
Gorō Inagaki
Masachika Ichimura
Mikijiro Hira
Hiroki Matsukata
Ikki Sawamura
Arata Furuta
Tsuyoshi Ihara
Masataka Kubota
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI $34.95 Music Kōji Endō


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Japanese DTS HD High Resolution Audio 5.1
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English (Burned In) Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     Directors are a funny lot, and I mean that as the highest sort of compliment. Their job entails a number of things, but the aspect of the job that resonates most with me is that they must ensure every department of their crew has the same idea of the film they are making. Which makes the job a very interesting one when the director has a strong, eccentric, or both, vision. Directors in this day and age are also the product of other directors from prior times. That is, their approach to the films they make reflects the films that they saw in earlier times, and the approach of the directors of those films. Takashi Miike has gone on record at least once as saying that one of his primary influences is Paul Verhoeven. As it happens, these two men happen to be two of a very small number of directors whose films I will buy on disc without having ever seen the film in question first. The fact that they are both uncompromising in their vision and recognition of the fact that childhood ends a lot sooner than adulthood is not a coincidence.

     Which brings me Jūsan-nin no shikaku, or 13 Assassins as the English-speaking distributors call it. I bought Jūsan-nin no shikaku on the basis of two things. One is obviously that it was directed by the aforementioned Miike, whose adaptation of Koroshiya Ichi had me retching and asking what the hell was wrong with Japanese people during multiple scenes (again, this is a compliment, not an insult). The other is that a review by Roger Ebert says, and I quote, " Hollywood action directors could study this film, especially in the way it focuses on story in the midst of violence.", among many other siren-song-like statements that translate to me as "you must see this film". Films this great do not happen often and so far this the best introduction to the wacky world of Takashi Miike (who probably finished another film in the time it took to read this news item) that is available in this country. The film has been reviewed on this site already here but I recommend it so thoroughly I had to throw in my own review just to make clear how much I enjoyed both film and disc.

     Two things I wish to mention before I summarise the plot, both relating to director Takashi Miike. Number one is that unlike certain directors I will not glorify by mentioning in conjunction with him, he knows the value of letting your audience see enough to make sense of a battle sequence. Number two is that unlike certain directors I will not glorify by mentioning in conjunction with him, when Takashi Miike boasts that one battle in his film takes up forty-five minutes of running time, it is because telling the story of that battle properly actually requires forty-five minutes, and not a single frame therein is wasted.

     Jūsan-nin no shikaku, to quote the Anglicised spelling of the proper Japanese title, is an exceedingly simple story. It is the little embellishments that make it what it is. Set towards the close of the Samurai era, Jūsan-nin no shikaku tells the story of a corrupt, extremely arrogant Lord who, in addition to being the brother of the current Shogun, believes that the working people are there to serve him, and anyone who is not on board with such a belief can explain it to the sharp end of his sword. However, he has been steadily building up a pile of enemies, and one day a Samurai is given the task of assembling a team to assassinate him.

     The total number of assassins recruited eventually reaches thirteen (hence the title), but the climactic point of the film has them fighting through at least two hundred enemies in an effort to get at the previously described Lord. Along the way, we are given insights into their battle strategy and reasoning, but it is the sequences where the motivations for destroying the Lord in question are made clear that really resonate. In true Takashi Miike style, we are shown implied rape, impalements, hara-kiri, and the aftermath of a woman being completely dismembered on top of her tongue being cut out. But the real meat in the sandwich for me is the details. Almost every frame is one I would be proud to have shot, and in written form, this is a story I would have been proud to have written.

     Jūsan-nin no shikaku is a great film, even more so than one expects from a man who directed Ōdishon and Koroshiya Ichi, among seemingly endless others. So the question is whether the disc it is presented on properly respects this…

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Transfer Quality

Video

     First, a little disclosure. Although I have seen several discs from the so-called Wu Xing collection marketed by Icon Entertainment, this is the first that I have purchased rather than rented. It is not without a small helping of those indie-distributor type issues, but it is still very good.

     Jūsan-nin no shikaku was shot in the Super 35 process, and projected theatrically in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, according to the IMDB technical specs. The transfer preserves this aspect ratio within a 1920 by 1080 progressive window.

     Much of the film appears to have been shot with a rather narrow aperture setting, resulting in a relatively narrow depth of field, especially during night-time and battle sequences. With this limitation in mind, it is sharp, with many shots revealing exquisite detail in sets and locations. Shadow detail during the night-time sequences is very good, with everything the director intended to be visible in these shots visible. Low-level noise is not an issue. Grain is moderately visible in some night-time or lower-lit sequences, but in acceptable amounts.

Note: Since writing the above, it has been pointed out to me that narrow depths of field result from wide aperture settings. I should know better, given how much time I have spent taking photos in the last six months.

     The colours of the transfer appear to reflect a desire for a natural-looking palette. Skin tones are spot-on, including one sequence detailing one of the Lord's crimes where a victim has caked white make-up on her face. No bleeding or misregistration is evident.

     The transfer is encoded in the AVCHD codec. No compression artefacts stood out to me during the two times I watched it in the course of this review. No aliasing or telecine wobble appears, either. Film artefacts were so small and infrequent that if they even appeared, I blinked and missed them.

     Subtitles in English are burned into the video stream. Since these subtitles do not contain any of the accents that seem to be giving current BD subtitling solutions a challenge, I find the decision to burn them in a little disconcerting. Having subtitles is obviously a godsend if you speak as little Japanese as I do (ie none at all), but I trade words every now and again with people who do speak the language. For them, being unable to turn off the translations and just enjoy the dialogue could detract from the experience.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     For reasons best known to themselves, Icon Entertainment have chosen to present Jūsan-nin no shikaku with two soundtracks. The first is the original Japanese dialogue in DTS HD Master Audio 5.1, and the second is a Dolby TrueHD rendition of the same Japanese dialogue. I have not seen this use of both lossless audio codecs since Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, and would welcome a chance to ask Icon's decision-makers to explain the rationale for this. Needless to say, I listened to both soundtracks.

     Ray's review has it pretty spot-on in terms of the difference between the two soundtracks. The Dolby TrueHD track is quieter overall, and seems to lack some of the finer qualities of the DTS HD Master Audio effort. Both are perfectly fine, although I am more likely to return to the DTS option on future viewings.

     The dialogue is clear and easy to make out, with separation from the foley and music being quite wide. No audio sync issues were noted.

     The score in the film is credited to one Kōji Endō. It is very minimal until the climactic battle, where it perks up in order to enhance the onscreen action. Most of the rest of the film goes by without so much as a musical peep. I cannot recommend this score other than during the battle sequence, but it does enhance the parts of the film in which it is heard.

     The surround channels are used moderately. During the dialogue sequences, which take up slightly more than half of the film, barely a peep is heard from them. The occasional environmental effect drifts into them during these sequences, but the emphasis here is on occasional. During the battle sequences or infrequent occasions when we hear music, on the other hand, the surrounds tend to come alive and envelop the listener. The sounds of arrows, swinging swords, and other high-frequency combat effects tend to receive the most benefit from the surround channels.

     The subwoofer is also used a little more sparingly than the surrounds, supporting the sounds of feet hitting wooden floors, horse hooves, explosive devices, and other such bass-rich sound effects. It is not worked terribly hard, but it is integrated well with the rest of the soundtrack.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

     A small collection of extras are present. The first thing one will see upon inserting the disc is one of those "please don't pirate this disc" (and I would be happy to comply if you let me skip things like this and copyright messages, guys) and trailers for two films. The first of which I would like to see on BD at your earliest convenience, pretty please, Icon.

Menu

     The menu is animated with sequences from the film in a sepia-like colour configuration within a window around which the menu options and framing are placed. The good news is that the theme and aesthetics of the menu are great. The bad news is that navigating the submenus is anti-intuitive (directions to use in order to leave menus change from one to another), there are far too few chapter selections for a film of this length (12 for a 125 minute film is NOT ON!), and the texts in the chapter selection submenu are virtually unreadable.

Deleted Scenes

     Twenty three minutes and forty-four seconds of what seems like everything that was omitted from the international cut of the film. It is presented with similar video to the main feature, and DTS HD Master Audio at that. Kudos to Icon for this. Extras are so much easier to watch when the audio is lossless. Unfortunately, many of the excerpts are mere seconds long, and no notation of any kind is provided to give any sense of their context within the rest of the film. Nor is any insight provided as to why they were deleted.

     And I have to echo Ray's comment in his review. Whomever thought it was a good idea to not only script but film that "humourous" sex scene should be ashamed of themselves. (Why even a director with a notoriety for his graphic and twisted scenes like Takashi Miike didn't rip the pages out, hand them to the producers, and say "I am not filming this" is anyone's guess.)

Featurette - Interview with Takashi Miike

     Slightly less than nineteen minutes, this interview is interesting largely because it gives one a look at the man ostensibly in charge of making the film. The interview is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. What I found most interesting was his praise for the actors who play the samurai. In the international cut of the film, very little effort is made to individualise these characters, so that they matter as much as they do when they die is testament that the praise is deserved.

Photo Gallery

     Stills that were used to publicise the film.

Theatrical Trailer

     A high definition trailer in the aspect of 2.35:1 with DTS HD Master Audio sound. I like the subtitles burned into the trailer far better than those in the main feature. This point aside, it is about time we got trailers with lossless audio.

Featurette - Wu Xing Collection Trailers

     In one submenu, a listing of trailers for 14 Blades, The Lost Bladesman, Red Cliff, Bruce Lee, My Brother, Fireball, and Mulan, complete with a Play All option.

     When the Play All option is selected, we get a total running length of thirteen minutes and twelve seconds. I have not manually verified if the trailers are encoded in HD, but they appear so. The trailers are divided into two "titles", with the first having only Dolby Digital audio, and the latter having DTS HD Master Audio. I will leave it to readers to guess which I enjoyed watching more.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     This is a tricky comparison to make, as only the Japanese Region A disc contains the full 141-minute cut of the film but it does not include any subtitle options. Other releases of the international version of the film are available from America and England, with varying soundtrack and special feature options. As it currently stands, I see no reason not to purchase the local version, but this will change if the lengthier cut becomes available with an English subtitle option.

Summary

     Before I say anything else, I only have a surface-scratching knowledge of Japanese history or culture, and do not really have a source I can go to easily to expand that. Aside from a Japanese spin on Scandinavian-origin music that has to be heard to be believed (go to metal-archives.com and look up the band called Sigh) and the anime and manga titled Rozario to Banpaia, the work of Takashi Miike is probably the only really Japanese thing I get to see with great regularity. (If people from the studios are reading this, take note that a Miike adaptation of Rozario to Banpaia would have me flying to Japan if that was what it took to get to see it.)

     Takashi Miike is one director whose work I will gladly pay to see on a high definition disc without having ever so much as seen a trailer. Almost no others can make the same claim. In Jūsan-nin no shikaku he has created a film that both is as the cover quote promises ("Part Seven Samurai, part The Dirty Dozen") and something much, much more. If every director in every media-producing nation put as much into their work as Miike does here, we would have no need for a heaven because we (the serious consumers of audio-visual entertainment, I mean) would already be there.

     The video transfer is very good, although some minor issues deny it unqualified reference status.

     The audio transfer is excellent, although why it was rendered in two codecs that both accomplish much the same thing is a question worth asking.

     The extras are interesting, with almost no fat, and a significant amount are even presented with lossless audio. Quibbles about the menu aside, this is how an extras package on a BD-Video should be.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Dean McIntosh (Don't talk about my bio. We don't wanna know.)
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Review Equipment
DVDPanasonic DMP-BD45, using HDMI output
DisplayPanasonic TH-P50U20A. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR606
SpeakersYamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Wharfedale Xarus 1000 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NSC-120 Centre Speaker, Wharfedale Diamond SW150 Subwoofer

Other Reviews
Michael D's Region 4 DVD Info Page - Ray N (the bio is the thing)

Comments (Add)
Miike's next movie - REPLY POSTED
narrow aperture means wide depth of field - REPLY POSTED
AVCHD encoding - BD mike