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New Release Review - IMMORTAL HERO

immortal hero review
Following a near death experience, a Japanese man spreads the word of God and makes a few quid in the process.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Hiroshi Akabane

Starring: Hisaaki Takeuchi, Fumika Shimizu, Tamao SatΓ΄, Kei Kinoshita, Takafumi Suto

immortal hero poster

Before I screened Immortal Hero, I had heard about these new, increasingly common ‘faith films’ they have now but never quite made the leap to watching them. Looking closer at the genre, however, with its earnestly melodramatic narratives like 2008’s Fireproof (about a porn-addicted fireman played by Kirk Cameron) and 2014’s Heaven Is for Real (the story of a boy who ‘briefly dies’ and sees heaven, a film which imdb categorises as ‘biography’-!) seemingly calibrated towards my avowed love of camp, I think that perhaps I should have hit the road to Damascus earlier! After all, these films make bank: Kirk Cameron’s onanistic firefighter took home $33m from a $500,000 budget, while the Dennis Quaid (poor the Quaid) starring I Can Only Imagine grossed $86 million worldwide against a production budget of $7 million (yikes!). Sure, they’re propaganda fables which gloss over the more potentially unpalatable aspects of the Christian faith, but is the ideology at the heart of these pictures any more harmful than the might-is-right creed of Marvel films, with their dodgy links to the American industrial-military complex? I suppose what put me off was my presumed cynicism of these films; the supposition that they were exploiting people’s naivety and childlike beliefs for the huckster buck. Plus, there was the abiding fact that they do all look a bit shit.

immortal hero review

Immortal Hero is a Japanese entry in this burgeoning (biblical) canon. From a screenplay by Sayaka Okawa (the film is based on a book by Ryuho Okawa), Hiroshi Akabane directs this would-be inspirational tale about a very successful author, Makoto (Hisaaki Takeuchi), who has some sort of near fatal heart attack but manages to will himself better through believing in God. Like some Nihon Noel Edmonds, Makoto’s miracle rouses him to share his ‘invincible thinking’ philosophy - essentially that all illness is created subconsciously through low self esteem, and by believing in some mad old stories you can heal thyself - which in turn bestows further fame and fortune upon him. That’s it, essentially. That is the film. Tzvetan Todorov eat your heart out: at least Kirk Cameron had a wank compulsion to conquer.

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The publicity for the film (and the film’s intertitles, twice) maintains that Immortal Hero is based on a true story. But it’s not though, is it? The first clue that the film is pulling a plot from its ana is that the film opens with its titular author sitting at his writing desk putting together his latest magnum opus. A dead giveaway that Immortal Hero is a work of pure fiction is Makoto sitting writing at his desk in a suit, and not in his pants and a dirty t.shirt, which is how everyone else in the world writes (right?).

immortal hero review

Makoto is one of those Paul Coelho style chancers peddling new-age philosophy to gullible punters. You know the type of non-book, the self-help guides that people buy in a moment of weakness but which languishes unfinished on the shelf for years until meeting its final destiny at the charity shop, wherein the seasoned old lady behind the counter accepts the book with a kindly smile, waiting until the donor has left the store before incinerating the offending item with extreme prejudice. The hard work of churning out this nonsense takes it toll though, and the poor fucker keels over to be rushed to the hospital. So important is our man however, that Jesus Christ comes to visit him in a vision to give him a metaphorical kick up the arse and get him back on his feet (I had to laugh: the actor playing Mr. Christ, clearly chosen because of his Caucasian, aquiline looks and Nazarene shagginess, has the decency to look suitably awkward in his scenes). Makoto has a message to spread, you see, that of the one true religion.

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Nevertheless, what is accurate to the facts is that the Makota character, as written by Ryuho Okawa, is a thinly veiled proxy of the author, who is the CEO and founder of the Happy Science (!) religious organisation and the Happiness Realisation Party in Japan. Okawa has written over 2300 books, including the amazingly titled 'Margaret Thatcher’s Miraculous Message' and the intriguing 'Spiritual Interview with Princess Diana'. He is also (according to Wikipedia) chairman of two companies affiliated with the organisation, Newster Production and ARI Production, which, inevitably, produced this film. The one true religion that Makota purports to spread, after healing cancer, a poorly knee and the ‘bombings in London’, is the values of the Happy Science corporation. The tenets of which seem to have been written by a happy but simple minded child with a special crayon: the blurb for the Maggie book reads, "On April 9, 2013, just nineteen hours after Margaret Thatcher’s death, Master Ryuho Okawa summoned her spirit to hold a miraculous spiritual interview with Europe’s first female prime minister, famously known as the Iron Lady." Hahahahahahaha!

immortal hero review

If this dull as fuck feature length advertisement for a disingenuous creed does tickle your fancy then you too can join the Happy Science organisation via its website: where there are tiered memberships "depending on how deep your soul feels connected to the Truth" (i.e. how much money you are prepared to cough up). Of course, a cursory internet search reveals nothing about the actual amount of money that the Happy Science organisation (which enjoys tax breaks via purporting to be a religion) makes, but from the implied meta-narrative of Immortal Hero and the reportage surrounding the cult, it would seem that Ryuho Okawa is a very wealthy man, indeed.

Immortal Hero is in UK cinemas March 6th.




2020 film reviews