Blade of the Immortal

BLADE1_2017From Cannes’ Out of Competition selection comes BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL, an exciting and adrenaline-charged samurai bloodbath from idiosyncratic Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike.

Though adapted from the popular manga series, BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL possesses all of Miike’s distinctive style and flair and launches immediately into the electrifying action with an opening black and white prologue of a samurai named Manji (Takuya Kimura) facing an uncountable horde of enemies. Manji seeks revenge for the brutal murder of his beloved sister and exacts his vengeance upon anyone that’s nearest him, using his superior swordsmanship to disembowel them in a cacophony of blood, gore and flying limbs. Manji eventually slaughters every last man and collapses, wounded and scarred, amongst a sea of mutilated corpses. This intense opening sequence, which drew excited whoops and applause from the packed Cannes crowd, marks the pace and ferocity with which the film continues throughout.

During this incredible skirmish Manji loses an eye, a hand and an incredible amount of blood. Mortally wounded and close to death, he is suddenly cursed with immortality by an 800 year old crone who infects him with bloodworms: magical organisms who live in Manji’s body, healing him from almost all wounds and even re-attaching his severed limbs. This immortality comes with a price, and fifty years later Manji is rendered world-weary, lonely and depressed. However, the wandering and aimless Samurai is given new vitality when he meets Rin (Hana Sugisaki), a young girl who reminds him of his beloved dead sister. Rin’s parents were brutally murdered at the hands of a group of master swordsmen named the Itto-ryu, led by the ruthless warrior Anotsu. Manji agrees to help Rin in her quest for vengeance, and embarks on a mission to kill the individuals of the organisation. This leads to a number of exciting and bloody one on one duels, including battles with an axe wielding assassin, a female ninja and a fellow
immortal warrior.

“…a piece of work easily worthy of holding a place among the best of Miike’s vast filmography.”

Miike is well initiated with the samurai genre, having already directed films such as IZO, HARA-KIRI: DEATH OF A SAMURAI and 13 ASSASSINS. To call Miike prolific would be an enormous understatement, and incredibly, this latest work is the one hundredth feature film he has directed in his career. This vast experience is reflected in the film which includes amazingly exciting choreographed fight sequences that manage to remain fresh and inventive despite their length and complexity. These remarkable fight scenes are expertly captured through marvelous cinematography that smoothly follows the intense action madness with beautiful control, gliding over heaped mounds of corpses and through buildings as the characters engage in their vicious battles.

Takuya Kimura delivers a brilliant performance as the charismatic one-eyed anti-hero, capable of great stillness and startling violence, scarred as he is both physically and emotionally. Sugisaki’s portrayal of Rin was slightly less controlled and at times bordered on the shrill and irritating, even prompting the occasional hope that Manji might fail in his bids to protect her. This slight peeve is one of the few drawbacks in an overall fantastic film, a piece of work easily worthy of holding a place among the best of Miike’s vast filmography such as AUDITION, DEAD OR ALIVE and ICHI THE KILLER.

Though boasting a daunting runtime of two hours and twenty minutes, the film’s frantic pace and exciting action set pieces continue right up to the epic final battle. These scenes never appear overlong, and a shorter run time may have reduced the film to a mere compilation of successive battle sequences with no impact. However, Miike balances the tone well and allows enough room to inject a touching relationship between the grumpy samurai Manji and his young apprentice Rin. The result is an exhilarating, bloody action thrill ride that will live long in the memory. Let’s hope Miike’s next one hundred films include a few more like this.