Director: Takashi Miike
Screenplay: Tetsuya Oishi
Starring: Takuya Kimura, Hana Sugisaki, Yôko Yamamoto
Duration: 140 min
BBFC Certification: 18
Blade of the Immortal, amazingly, is the 100th film from the highly prolific Takashi Miike, and the years have not mellowed his flair for over the top bloodshed, but they have refined his style. Less madcap than some of his earlier work, it still remains the feel of a live action cartoon, but with a sombre serious tone.
The film stars Takuya Kimura as Manji, a samurai caring for his younger sister (Hana Sugisaki) after he killed her husband in his line of duty. When a group of bounty hunters kill his sister, Manji unleashes his fury, slaughtering them in the street where they stand. After dispatching all, Manji has taken some fatal hits and lays down to die when he is approached by mysterious crone, Yaobikuni (Yôko Yamamoto). She salvages his body with regenerating bloodworms which heal him, but now he can no longer die.
We catch up with Manji fifty years later, where he has become a lonely figure, embittered by his endless existence. He soon meets Rin (also played by Sugisaki), a young woman seeking revenge after a group of warriors murder her father and rape and kidnap her mother. Master Anotsu (Sota Fukushi) leads the group, known as the Itto-Ryu, who plan to destroy all dojos and rigid codes of martial arts. At first, Manji is reluctant to assist Rin, but swayed by her resemblance to his sister, he agrees to act as her bodyguard, putting his immortal powers to work to exact the girl’s vengeance.
Based on the popular Japanese comic book (previously adapted as an anime series), Miike’s Blade of the Immortal is an epic samurai actioner, full of stunning sword-based action sequences and a surprisingly rich narrative. The film is full of the kinetic style and colourful characters of the source material, presenting a blend of familiar samurai tropes and more mythical elements. When the action slows down and we get to spend time with Manji and Rin, the film becomes a meditation on the nature of vengeance and its ultimate futility. The prominent question throughout is “When does revenge end?”, with the twist being that Manji cannot die. In other revenge stories, the vengeance seeker is usually on a one way mission that will ultimately lead to their own demise, or as Manji states, others are lucky that they can die.
Miike is a very stylish director and this is more than evident in this highly stylised production. The opening sequence is shot in richly beautiful black and white, which as it bleeds into colour, almost leaves you wishing the film would have played out in this palette.
Although a highly enjoyable romp, at nearly two and a half hours, Blade of the Immortal is far too long and the action sequences do start to get repetitious. By the time it gets to its spectacular finale, the viewer may be too fatigued to fully enjoy it.
Blade of the Immortal is released on DVD and Blu-ray by Arrow Video. Neil reviewed the Blu-ray which includes the following extras:
• Takashi Miike on Blade of the Immortal, a new interview with the legendary director filmed exclusively for Arrow Video at the 2017 London Film Festival
• Audio commentary by Asian cinema expert Tom Mes
• Manji vs. 300, behind the scenes featurette documenting the shooting of the film’s thrilling climax
• Extensive cast interviews filmed on the set during production
• Stills gallery
• Original trailers