Starring Takuya Kimura, Hana Sugisaki, Sôta Fukushi
Directed by Takashi Miike
The 100th film (!!!) of prolific Japanese director Takashi Miike, Blade of the Immortal is nothing short of pure samurai violence at its finest. An adaptation of Hiroaki Samura’s manga Mugen no jûnin, Miike’s movie is an explosion, both figuratively and literally, of blood and viscera featuring what may very well be the most fresh corpses I’ve ever seen in a film.
We follow Manji (Kimura), a highly-trained samurai who, by being infected with “Bloodworms”, finds himself to be immortal. However, because of his dark past, he prefers to live in solitude, mourning the murder of his younger sister Machi (Sugisaki). However, when Rin, a young girl (also played by Sugisaki), comes to him to ask for his help in seeking revenge against a murderous fencing school that killed her parents, he joins her as her bodyguard on this blood-filled quest as a means of seeking redemption for not being able to save his sister all those years ago.
Blade of the Immortal wastes no time getting into what people want from this film, which is heavy amounts of violence. The opening title screens haven’t even cut away before we hear screams and the sound of metal slicing through flesh. From here on out, every single action sequence is thrilling, visceral, and energetic. Miike mixes close-ups with both medium and wide shots so as to mix what the audiences sees. Sometimes we’re in the thick of the battle, the flurry of blades a blur, while other times we are pulled back, observing from a distance so as to see Manji’s devastating abilities.
Recognizing that there needs to be more than violence to keep a film entertaining, the script is also sharp, direct, and, at times, quite amusing. At several points, I found myself chuckling at the relationship between Manji and Rin, which begins with a disgusting potential but quickly turns into something familial. Rin is the spitting image of Machi – obviously, as they’re played by the same actress – so he feels the need to protect her, suffering catastrophic wounds along the way.
My only complaint with Blade of the Immortal is the over-reliance of very clunky and forced exposition scenes. We are given enough story to understand the motivations behind Rin’s need for revenge but we’re also shown political games between the Shogunate and Anotsu Kagehisa (Fukushi), the leader of the Itto-Ryu, the school that killed Rin’s parents. While interesting, it later gets coupled with Kagehisa explaining his own motivations for his power-seeking ways to Rin and each of these scenes take several minutes where the movie slows down noticeably. While the action flies by, these exposition scenes make the near two-and-a-half hour runtime apparent.
Additionally, while the manga states that Manji can remove his immortal curse by slaying 1,000 evil men, this aspect is never mentioned in the film. And when faced with someone that is infected with the same “Bloodworms” as himself, Manji’s dispatching of this warrior feels all too quick. Such a character could have been a far more interesting and exciting villain, one that pushed both to the edges of their capabilities. Alas, the opportunity wasn’t seized, although what we were given is still gruesomely rewarding!
Culminating in a large battle sequence that ends with rivulets of blood coursing along the ground, their path disturbed by the occasional severed limb or bisected body, I gleefully witnessed a story of family, honor, and revenge.
Blade of the Immortal is Miike’s hyper-violent self at its finest and it proves that he is just as capable now as he has ever been. Much like Manji, there is no stopping this man.