UK Release Date: 8th December 2017
Runtime: 141 minutes
Director: Takashi Miike
Writer: Tetsuya Oishi
Starring: Takuya Kimura, Hana Sugisaki, Sōta Fukushi, Hayato Ichihara, Erika Toda, Ichikawa Ebizō XI
Synopsis: A young woman out for revenge after her family is killed hires an immortal samurai to act as her bodyguard while she seeks to track down the man responsible.
Japanese director Takashi Miike is one of the most prolific filmmakers in the entire world. More than 25 years after he first unleashed his twisted vision, Miike has delivered his 100th film to the public – a samurai action movie gift-wrapped with lashings of arterial splatter. Never one to scrimp on scale, Miike has constructed a bona fide epic with Blade of the Immortal, which has enough impressive fight choreography and intensity to paper over the cracks of its rather thin story.
The movie is a straightforward tale of revenge, amplified with a supernatural edge. It focuses on the relationship between a veteran samurai Manji (Takuya Kimura), imbued with immortality and self-healing powers by a mysterious woman, and a young girl (Hana Sugisaki) seeking to avenge her family. Her parents have been killed by brutal samurai clan leader Anotsu (Sōta Fukushi) as part of a crusade to force the world to work in his way. Manji reluctantly agrees to help and embarks upon a violent journey to take down Anotsu and his sword-wielding acolytes.
Blade of the Immortal makes its mark with a stunning first scene, in which Takuya Kimura takes on a horde of ronin in a sequence of monochrome carnage. The frame fills with colour for a flash-forward in time, but this brings the narrative momentum crashing down with a slow-moving opening act that fails to illicit much sympathy for Hana Sugisaki’s troubled youngster. The sympathy does come, however, as the movie progresses towards its big finale.
Miike comes into his own with the violence and brutality, as those familiar with Audition and Ichi the Killer might expect. The fight choreography is lightning quick and equally slick, with slashing blades flying everywhere. These sequences are like frequent bursts of energy that keep the film moving forward with remarkable intensity, culminating in a fight that pits a handful of dogged fighters against a surging army. Few can direct violence with the twisted flair of Miike and, 100 films deep into his filmography, he still shows himself to be a maestro of the macabre.
It’s when the action steps to one side that Blade of the Immortal feels slightly less accomplished. The plot, adapted from a manga, is very simple and doesn’t justify its rather bloated length. While the relationship between the two leads works well enough to support a 90-minute sprint of an action movie, there’s not enough there for a near two and a half hour epic tale. Sub-plots about the future of samurai culture and the relative merits of different styles might have resonance in their native Japan, but the lack of that heritage in the UK means these scenes fall somewhat flat.
The film, though, has enough in terms of memorable violence to make it a success. Miike is a one of a kind filmmaker with a unique vision and he brings that to the samurai genre with Blade of the Immortal. The director’s eclectic tastes continue to be a marvel. It’s hard to believe the same guy who made Audition made this and made something as singularly bizarre as The Happiness of the Katakuris. We should all be glad to live in a world where that guy exists.
Pop or Poop?
With its gory, triumphant action sequences and epic storytelling, Blade of the Immortal is a fitting film to serve as a landmark in the career of Takashi Miike. The samurai hacking and slashing is consistently enjoyable, but the plotting leaves a lot to be desired, particularly given the bloated running time.
Miike is an expert in violence, and that’s where his hundredth film excels. Its finale is a blood-soaked fiasco delivered with cinematic flair and a flurry of slashing blades that ensures you leave the audience breathless.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.