REVIEW: Blade of the Immortal
– By James Pemberton
Takashi Miike is one of the more interesting directors to come from the far east. Having amassed a large body of work with films criss crossing multiple genres the director came to the attention of Western audiences with his 2000 film AUDITION which deftly suckered the viewer in with its romantic sub plot and drama, only to pull the rug completely away with a disturbing and brutal finale that came out of nowhere. This led to a number of his films being released on the Asia extreme label on the now defunct Tartan Video and also highlighting the director’s massive range. Since then the Asia extreme releases have slightly died down and it has become increasingly difficult to catch any of Miike’s work outside of festival screenings, since the director hasn’t stopped the day job and is increasing his work output to number 100 with his latest release BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL, which is thankfully getting a decent release via Arrow’s theatre releasing chain in UK cinemas.
The film is based on a Manga by Hiroaki Samura and opens with Manji (Kimura) on the run after killing his corrupt lord and bodyguard. He has under his wing his sister, Machi, who he witnesses being slain by outlaws out for the bounty on his head. After a particularly brutal and frenetic battle which sees Manji take out all of the outlaws but left for dead, an old nun gives Manji the chance for immortality and infects him with bloodworms, which revive his beaten dying body. Flash forward to 50 years later and Manji is approached by Rin Asano (Sugisaki) who wants him to become her bodyguard and get vengeance on the ltto-ryu clan who have slain her dad after they attacked him in his training school. Particularly she wants to see the leader of the clan Kagehisa (Fukushi) dead, who was the one who killed her dad in front of her. At the same time Kagehisa is leading his clan into power hoping to make in roads to a position of the shogunate. Manji reluctantly agrees to become Rin’s protector and helps her in a quest for vengeance meeting various powerful and supernatural bad guys along the way.
From the outset BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL has more in common with Miike’s brilliant 13 ASSASSINS but thrown in with supernatural elements and comic stylised violence that would seem fitting for a Manga adaptation. The film looks fantastic and the brilliant and bloody opening sets the tone of the film and also uses a nice visual method of highlighting Manji’s eventual turn to immortality, with the preceding battle and scenes before it in monochrome but coming straight into full colour life when the bloodworms infect our central character’s body. There’s also something magnificently startling and spectacular in the shots of a large area littered with corpses that both exemplify the physical cost of revenge and the absurd almost surreal manner in which so many will give up their own lives for so few in the art of combat. The cast are particularly decent in their role which involves a lot of physical performance, especially in the over the top battles and fights, of which there are plenty. Kimura is very good as our lead, at times slightly obnoxious and annoying to Rin at the start but eventually becoming her protector and weapon of vengeance, whilst exposing his own willingness to find a way out of immortality. He also highlights the flaws in Manji in that as much as he can be a fighter he is prone to still taking plenty of brutal punishment and often suffering the harsh effects of battle, even losing limbs in the process.
Whilst it visually and stylishly looks great and the action blurs that bravura over the top esque ridiculous battle premise of one guy taking on countless samurai in one big long battle, the film does seem a tad over long running at 140 minutes and at times starts to lose some of its pace. Yet in the end the film does succeed with its frenetic and fast paced action scenes, odd supernatural elements and fantastic epic style in a sort of cross combination of samurai action movie and supernatural horror, with admittedly more emphasis on traditional battle scenes. It’s a testament that Miike is still out there and making films which are diverse in many ways and mark him out as one of the world’s most interesting directors and one that genre fans will always pride in having a cult following of.