How Do the Film 13 Assassins Reflect Aspects of Japanese Mood and Culture?

13 Assassins is one of the most thought-provoking samurai films. Primarily, it is because it focuses on the conflict of ideologies that occurred in 1844 that vividly characterizes the storyline. Lord Matsudaira Naritsugu, who is the main character, is involved in violent actions against countrymen: he destroys, murders, rapes, and tortures people. He does not face the necessary consequences for his brutal act because of the special protection he receives from his half-brother. However, he should accept the war of assassins who have been hired to eliminate him. This film portrays accurately the Japanese culture and the system that defines beliefs. Japanese by nature are compassionate. Moreover, they tend to shun the evil. Thus, it is important to note that while watching a Japanese film, one can understand clearly the film’s origin and the battle depicted in it. This perception originates from the fact that the Japanese films mainly reflect their culture and firm beliefs in justice which have been relatively consistent since the 19th century. 13 Assassins was produced in 2010 as a remake of the same film directed by Eiichi Kudo in 1963., Thus, thirteen assassins utilize martial arts both to reveal the caring and compassionate mood that characterizes the Japanese culture and to demonstrate the Japanese commitment to fight against evil forces.

The first element of 13 Assassins that impresses the audience is how the theme of a war against evil unfolds. Undoubtedly, this theme is a leitmotif of many Japanese movies. Because Japanese culture depends on the social responsibility for protecting the well-being of each other, an image of the fight against evil forces prevails in different forms of art, especially in samurai films. Even Japanese video games reflect wars against evil. The Japanese are considered to be the most homogenous nation in the world (Kung 4). Japan hosts few foreigners fostering a sense of brotherhood and mutual social responsibility. This tradition is known as a (McDonald 83). Wa refers to the aspect of harmony in a group. According to this tradition, the value of the greater good is more significant than the value of personal needs. Such an idea diminishes the aspect of the superiority of others and changes the effect of the social classes on this culture. Everyone focuses on the fight against evil forces. It is vitally important to defeat them together so that a victory could lead to the common well-being of everyone. 13 Assassins features young men who are collectively fighting against the savage leadership of Lord Matsudaira Naritsugu, who should ascend to a more powerful position. The group of young men is led by an old Samurai, Shimada Shinzaemon, who served in the shogun before. The assassination is planned by Doi Toshitsura, the Shogun’s Justice, who realizes the possible outcome of Naritsugu’s rule (Shogun). He knows that Naritsugu is a cruel leader who tortures, rapes, and kills citizens at his pleasure. Understanding the consequences, he decides to hire thirteen assassins to help assassinate Naritsugu who symbolizes evil in this film. The assassination of the evil half-brother of the ruler will bring peace to the kingdom and contribute to the well-being of everyone. Thus, it will become proof of social responsibility towards one another in the Japanese culture. Thirteen assassins do not focus on the benefits that they will receive from the mission. They risk their lives on behalf of their community because they value communal good more than satisfaction and recognition. Therefore, the movie highlights the readiness of genuine warriors to sacrifice their lives for their community.

Another element of 13 Assassins that reveals peculiarities of Japanese culture is a positive depiction of the samurai. Samurai become an obvious allusion to Japanese traditions. The film’s main protagonists are samurai. The old man Shinzaemon has been a samurai for a long time. Now, he has to recruit other samurai to help with the assassination mission. The Japanese film industry has addressed the traditions related to samurai in the majority of national movies. The Twilight Samurai, Seven Samurai, Harakiri, and Samurai Rebellion are examples of Japanese films that explore the samurai’s contribution to historical events. Furthermore, even modern Japanese movies always have a rendition of samurai (Thorne, 85). The hero can be a giant as in the movie Godzilla or has an animated strong personality as in the majority of animated series and video games. The samurai in 13 Assassins correspond directly to the long tradition of the Japanese to fight against injustice and cruelty. Samurai were military warriors that had unique importance in the Japanese culture (Thorne, 74). They had excellent fighting skills and remarkable intellectual abilities. They formed the military from the 12th century to the second half of the 19th century before the Japanese system changed (Thorne, 71). Even though there are no samurai currently, this tradition is still prevalent. For example, some of the Japanese guards still put on samurai attire. Samurai inspire modern people because they were heroes who lived according to a set code of conduct.
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Another element of Japanese culture presented in 13 Assassins is the Japanese martial arts. Japanese martial arts are a significant tradition of its culture. A large percentage of Japanese entertainment industry products feature martial arts. Tenchu and Tekken are two examples of Japanese video games that feature the Japanese tradition of unique combat practices. Japanese martial arts consist of various elements, such as Karate, Judo, Aikido, Kendo, and Kempo Shorinji. Today, martial arts are a primary sports activity in Japan. There are annual tournaments and championships for the practitioners of martial arts in Japan. In the 19th century, legends of martial arts were considered heroes and heroines. The movie 13 Assassins is an exposition of martial arts. The samurai and the soldiers of the Shogun fight with swords displaying prominent martial art skills. The heroes who aim to kill Naritsugu are very proficient in their martial arts skills. While fighting, samurai appeal to the audience to display the real meaning of martial arts – fight for the common good. Furthermore, the storyline validates the reason why the most remarkable samurai, Shinzaemon and Shinrokuro, remain and manage to assassin the lord. Shinzaemon symbolizes the wisdom of an old man who has been mastering his fighting skills for all his life. Shinrokuro is a nephew of Shinzaemon who receives this wisdom. The reference to martial arts in the film is evidence that the Japanese film industry focuses on the traditions of their country trying to preserve them. 13 Assassins elicit an awareness of Japanese culture from the audience because of its explicit depiction of Japanese martial arts.

Another element of 13 Assassins that portrays Japanese culture is the Japanese art of the Edo period. Japanese consider art a crucial element of their tradition (Berglund 55). Crafting knowledge has been transferred from one generation to another. Japan has been guarding the culture of art since its existence as a nation (McDonald 45). The country takes immense pride in art. Currently, it is famous for art galleries, such as Scai the Bathhouse, Mizuma, and Taku Ishii. The country also holds various art competitions to help cultivate their culture. 13 Assassins feature various crafted images showcased in the Shogun’s palace. The images represent the gods of the Akashi clan elaborately crafted and molded by the artists. The palace also contains the images of a popular Shogun who ruled the clan. Undoubtedly, it is easy to identify a Japanese film once one sees the Japanese art pieces on the screen. 13 Assassins not only portrays the Japanese culture through these artworks but also reveals the history of the conflict. The movie conveys how the Japanese had been fighting evil forces during their history.

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In conclusion, the films are a mirror of society. The film industry highlights and explains the nature of depicted culture. Truly powerful movies can characterize it. The analysis of 13 Assassins answers the question of how Japanese movies reflect the aspects of Japanese culture. The elements described above are primary in the majority of Japanese films. They make the viewer understand that the movie is of Japanese origin. The major characteristic which influences the audience is the theme of a fight against evil for the common good. It proves that Japanese culture value the common good more than individual profit. Another element that reveals the culture is martial arts which have been a part of Japanese culture since its origin. This element is a feature that characterizes Japanese films. Another aspect is the presence of the samurai in the film. Samurai have been in Japanese films since the 19th century hence their presence identifies whether a movie is from Japan. Samurai form an important part of the Japanese culture that is preserved in modern times. The final element discussed in the essay is the presence of Japanese art in the Edo period. The Edo period in Japanese culture was characterized by historic art forms and remarkable crafting skills. The movie 13 Assassins manifests Japanese culture because it features vivid aspects that make it ‘Japanese.’

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