The Movie Waffler New Release Review - BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL

blade of the immortal review
A young girl enlists the aid of a seemingly immortal samurai to avenge her family's murder.

Review by Ren Zelen

Directed by: Takashi Miike

Starring: Takuya Kimura, Hana Sugisaki, Sôta Fukushi, Hayato Ichihara, Chiaki Kuriyama, Yoko Yamamoto, Erika Toda, Min Tanaka, Kazuki Kitamura

blade of the immortal poster

Takashi Miike’s latest film, his hundredth feature, is samurai epic Blade of the Immortal. As might be expected, its chief protagonist, Manji (Takuya Kimura) proves to be very difficult to kill; in this case, even more so than usual.

Not only is he able to slash, chop and stab his way through hordes of would-be assassins, he has been gifted, or cursed, with ‘blood worms’, who conveniently mend any wounds inflicted on him, making him a Japanese equivalent of X-Man Wolverine - particularly so in this feature, as he is grumpily drawn in to protecting Rin (Hana Sugisaki) a vengeful, but barely pubescent, girl, (a la Hugh Jackman’s recent Logan).

blade of the immortal

Tetsuya Oishi’s screenplay is based on the eponymous long-running manga series by Hiroaki Samura, and opens with a black-and-white battle that leaves Manji mortally wounded and Machi, his little sister, slain. Possibly a merciful release for poor Machi, as she had gone mad with grief after the murder of her husband at the hand of big-brother Manji.

Unaccountably, an enigmatic ancient called Yaobikuni (Yoko Yamamoto) appears and administers a dose of worms into his wounds, which immediately get to work reattaching Manji’s severed hand and repairing his gashes.

The movie leaps 50 years forward and into colour. We find Manji scarred and living in an old shack as a recluse. Young Rin appears, having been given directions by Yaobikuni. She is hoping to recruit Manji to avenge the death of her beloved parents by a renegade band of swordsmen called the Itto-ryu. Manji isn’t keen to return to the killing game, but Rin bears a striking resemblance to Machi, his dead sister, and still racked with guilt regarding her demise, he grudgingly agrees to be Rin’s bodyguard and mentor.

blade of the immortal

Rin is particularly keen to dispatch Kagehisa Anotsu (Sota Fukushi), leader of the Itto-ryu, who killed her father and doomed her mother to an even ghastlier fate. Anotsu is bad but also startlingly beautiful. Languid and androgynous, the soft-voiced Anotsu leads his renegade army primarily by a particular talent in striking an elegant pose (Madonna still has much to learn from the aesthetics of the East). Unlike his adversaries, Anotsu never feels the need for bombast or histrionics. He lets his sword do the talking.

Pretty-boy Anotsu and the Itto-ryu espouse a different, darker form of swordplay, and seek to divide and conquer the various schools that train samurai warriors. Manji is a practitioner of a lost military art with different values, therefore, opposing forms of politics and combat between rival schools become major elements in Blade of the Immortal.

But the film is only superficially about codes and politics - inevitably, it is primarily about blood and guts - ‘Overkill’ has never been a word in Miike’s vocabulary. The supernatural aspects of the story enable Miike to play with the traditions of chanbara, one of the oldest genres in Japanese cinema. He departs from the usual choreography of swordplay sequences. Working with his cinematographer Nobuyasu Kita and production designer Toshiyuki Matsumiya, Miike delivers a samurai epic with unusual Gothic weaponry and some free-form combat moves, capturing every strike and blow with clean and confident camerawork.

blade of the immortal

Being a Miike film, it inevitably goes over-the-top with the body count and the sheer amount of bloodshed that the protagonists can endure and dispense. Blade of the Immortal's action sequences are predictably gory and are accompanied by the usual soundtrack of blades slashing and squelchingly entering and exiting flesh.

The film’s one-on-one showdowns that pit Manji’s style against a variety of foes with different techniques are interesting enough, but over the course of two-and-a-half hours, even a fan's patience can be tested. The fight sequences are frequent, excessive, and overlong, and the extended brutality of the crowd massacres becomes repetitive and tiresome.

Blade of the Immortal lacks thematic and narrative depth, and only vaguely touches upon questions of mortality, redemption, and the morality of bloody vengeance. However, in Miike’s exceptionally experienced hands, the film does provide skilfully-made, reliably bloodthirsty, samurai pulp fantasy.

Blade of the Immortal is in UK/ROI cinemas December 8th.