13 Assassins opens with a samurai named Mamiya committing seppuku (Harakiri) as a protest to Lord Naritsugu (Gorô Inagaki). The Samurai era is on the decline and Lord Naritsugu is gaining power. He is the adopted brother of the current Shogun, although they have different mothers. Lord Naritsugu is the heir to the Akashi lands and has been appointed the Shogun's senior advisor when he returns. Sir Doi (Mikijiro Hira), one of the Shogun's current advisors, must do something to stop Naritsugu from ruining the shogunate. Since the Shogun won't ask that Lord Naritsugu step down as the Akashi heir to the land, Sir Doi must come up with another plan.
The Owari clan had an issue when Naritsugu visited them last time. He brutally raped the wife of one of the men there and then killed him, chopping off his victim's head in front of the now widow that he has just raped. She then kills herself in disgrace that night. The man's father, Yukie Makino, visits Sir Doi and talks with Shinzaemon (Kôji Yakusho) at Sir Doi's request. Sir Doi tells Shinzaemon that Shinzaemon is the solution to the Naritsugu problem. After seeing the daughter of the peasant leader whom Naritsugu cut off her limbs and cut out her tongue, Shinzaemon happily agrees to take on the task, possibly to die a noble death.
Shinzaemon collects his most trusted and best samurai for the task. They have to kill Naritsugu before he makes it to Akashi land. There are nine to begin with. One is attacked immediately after leaving, but Shinzaemon rescues him and kills 6 of Hanbei's men with one slash each. He states that he is a Ronin, a masterless samurai.
These samurai collect other samurai and ronin that they can find and get their numbers up to 12 and they start training for the battle of their lives. Shinzaemon even has two of them train in explosives, which can be very handy. Hanbei (Masachika Ichimura) is determined to serve Naritsugu and find out what Sir Doi is up to. Hanbei will protect his Lord.
The night before they are to depart, Hanbei visits Shinzaemon. Hanbei and Shinzaemon trained together when they were young. Hanbei knows that Shinzaemon is going to try something on the Lord's road to Akashi from Edo, but he can't talk him out of it in advance. Three days after Naritsugu leaves, Shinzaemon tells the men that they will attack at Ochiai in the Mino province, in Owari territory. They can ask for Makino's help there. When they get lost on a shortcut, they pick up a guide named Koyata Kiga (Yûsuke Iseya) to help them, after cutting him free from a net where he was being punished for touching his boss's woman. He turns out to be quite handy in knowing where to go. Makino and his men follow the plan and ban Lord Naritsugu from traveling through Owari as is the plan. Makino's riflemen force Naritsugu to swallow his pride and turn around to go the path that the samurai want him to have to travel. This means that there are 70 men with Naritsugu for these warriors to defeat. First, they have to find him though, as he seems to have disappeared on the path. When they do finally show up, it is 200 or more men rather than the 70!
Can these 13 warriors (including the forest guy) beat an army of over 200 men and defeat the evil Lord Naritsugu? Granted, if this were a videogame, it would be easy, but this isn't a game. True, it is a movie, but these men are not superheroes. They are simply smart and well-trained fighters.
The first half of 13 Assassins is the story of getting to the final battle. Literally, the second half of the movie is one large battle between the 13 warriors and the 200+ men of Naritsugu. I think that Koyata is my favorite fighter in the end. He's definitely unpredictable! I love the details like a tiny stream running blood red and the extra swords being grabbed at just the right time. They carefully planned out the last battle so that you don't see things like men standing around waiting to attack. You'd think that nearly an hour of continuous battle would get a bit monotonous, but Miike is amazing at directing and you're continually enthralled the entire time.
There are a few special features available on the DVD as well. Personally, I like the deleted scenes but then I usually enjoy deleted scenes just to see what they decided to cut as opposed to what they kept. There is also an interview with Takashi Miike that is quite interesting. If you're looking for a movie chocked full of sword fighting and action, but that still manages to have a strong plot with political intrigue, you'll love 13 Assassins.