13 Assassins comes to US Blu-ray with a 1080p resolution, encoded using the
In a perfect match for the subject material, this is a very film-like transfer with little in the way of stylisation or signs of artificial enhancement to skew this atmosphere. A fine layer of grain veils proceedings, and the early, half-light scenes of political meetings and intrigue show off the healthy, if not truly stunning, shadow detail. There has not been the push for artificial sharpness in these moments thankfully, as edges and definition as a whole ebbs into the softer corners of the frame pleasingly. However, upon closer framing it is easy to note the intricate detail of the costumery on show.
The opening portion of the film highlights little in the way of a dynamic colour palette, as everything conforms to more muted tones, but once the band of warriors enter the forest the depth to the colours this disc is capable of becomes far more apparent. The verdant greens and complex foliage are rich and vibrant. Similarly, when fire is employed or the blood really starts to flow, the bolder tones cut through the mud and dirt with great intensity and show no problems with bleed. Even focus shots through fire and smoke survive without a misstep.
The contrast is strong, and perhaps hints at a touch of boosting, with blacks seemingly a shade darker and enveloping in terms of the material costumes than perhaps they should be, but this is an arguable point. The contrast brings with it a depth to the image and, coupled with the consistent colour palette, draws the action out of the screen when necessary and framed to do so, most notably during the final battle sequences and a few slow zooms.
It isn’t absolutely razor sharp all the time but it is an extremely consistent and suitably organic transfer that packs sufficient punch.
Two tracks are available; Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. I opted for the original language version.
The audio almost exactly mirrors the strengths of the image in that it performs capably at depicting the atmosphere of a naturalistic setting. There aren’t a great many whiz-bang moments in the first half of the film, but the rears are employed well for scene setting with the little background noises one would associate with period Japan. They are subtle but add immeasurably to the soundscape.
The brooding score is similarly muted but expansive, Miike intentionally held back from pushing it in front of the action, so although at times it may seem subdued, there is good reason. It is however capable of shifting in an instant and the low frequencies of the strings reverberate into the room from the fronts, and when the real bottom end is called for the LFE capably applies itself to giving that extra bit of grunt – it may not be called upon that much but when it is, it’s spot on.
There are some effective pans of horse’s hooves and the rush of arrows, but the real beauty is saved for the sword combat itself. Unlike many jidaigeki, lamentably both modern and old, high and low budget, a myriad of different and unique combinations of sound effects are utilised for the clashes of metal and the slicing of torsos. Hits are dynamic, encompassing high and low frequencies, which results in a great many strikes having a real weight behind them as well as a piercing edge. It remains a touch front heavy still, but the result is hard to quibble with when the cinematography so often calls for it to be so in a traditional manner. Dynamic enough to thrill but also nuanced enough to cater for the slower scenes, this lossless Japanese track matches this film-of-two-halves adeptly.
Deleted Scenes – 1080p – 18:14
I believe these are the entirety of the cuts made from the original Japanese theatrical version of the film which gives us the international cut you see on this disc. Some are missed, others feel like filler and a couple (those featuring Koyota) are arguably better off on the cutting room floor. They certainly make for an interesting talking point though, and this bonus shouldn’t be skipped.
Interview with Director Takashi Miike – 1080i – 18:43
A Japanese TV interview that packs in more than most. The director discusses specifics of the film as well as giving his general views of making such a traditional movie. It’s all very thoughtful, however, just when you think he’s suddenly come over too staid he does pick out an interesting choice for his favourite scene and states his belief that it will be a family film – classic Miike, never too predictable.
Theatrical Trailer – 1080p – 2:32
A portable copy of the film to be redeemed through iTunes.
Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins is a mature and contemplative samurai drama that just so happens to contain one of the most riotous final forty minutes in cinematic history. It deserves however not to be overshadowed by that fact, as the preceding eighty minutes are a powerful and complex series of scenes intended to lay the groundwork for the arena in which many will ultimately give their lives.
The disc has an organic image with enough verve to bring the fight sequences out of the screen and the lossless Japanese audio track (or the English one - for the heathens amongst you) is similarly a bifurcated example of subtlety and vigour, containing power in each sword stroke as well as finely crafted atmospherics. The extras are small in number, but the inclusion of the deleted scenes from the Japanese theatrical version of the film as well as an interesting interview with Miike himself should ease any disappointment felt.
Take it as an allegory, full of symbolism and characters to be interpreted; an accomplished re-imagining of an established jidaigeki tale, or even as a feudal men-on-a-mission actioner, 13 Assassins is fashioned from the steel of a classic story, forged in the searing hot furnace of Miike’s direction and finished with a razor sharp katana edge.
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