Blade of the Immortal review Takuya Kimura Sôta FukushiYear: 2017
Director(s): Takashi Miike
Writer(s): Hiroaki Samura, Tetsuya Oishi
Region of Origin: Japan

Rating: R
B&W, Color, 140 mins

Synopsis: A samurai cursed with immortality vows to help a young girl exact vengeance. (Source)

BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL IS TAKASHI MIIKE’S 100TH FILM!??

By virtue of this fact alone, the auteur provocateur’s latest is a miracle in and of itself. Even without this commendable feat, it’s still everything you love about the director, featuring a stylish, unique take on tradition. Miike is nothing if not consistent, and his signature excess is on full display here. Every showdown is blood-soaked, limbs are constantly flying and sorcery gives an ol’ Samurai’s tale a hefty dose of surrealism. Even with its simple vengeance plot, Miike has made sure that his Manga adaptation is a constant flow of sensory overload, taking two great performances from stars Takuya Kimura and Hana Sugisaki and channeling them into an effortlessly sincere story of redemption and tragedy. By Miike’s own standards, Blade may not be another Ichi the Killer or even 13 Assassins, but it’s still a cut above the rest, especially when compared to all the staid convention that mars most modern genre fare.

Once upon a time, disgraced Samurai Manji (Takuya Kimura) made a stand that cost him his life and that of his sister. While avenging his sister’s death, Manji is mortally wounded, but cursed to live when a mysterious woman inserts magical bloodworms into his body. Armed with healing powers but forced to live a meaningless life, Manji retreats into solitude until he’s discovered by a young girl out for vengeance. On her quest to make things right, Rin (Hana Sugisaki) enlists Manji as her bodyguard, vowing to find Anotsu (Sota Fukushi), the leader of a corrupt sword school who killed her father. Of course, their path to revenge and redemption is fraught with unexpected twists, leading Manji and Rin to face the cost of their bloodlust and a host of unsavory characters.

Right from the start, Miike has high ambitions. The film’s opening sequence is a whopper that details the massacre of an entire village, beat by ferocious beat. It’s a opening that’s chaotic, beautifully shot and full of pathos. The scene could’ve been the climax of any other film, but Miike uses it as a jumping off point, and has no problem keeping the rest of the film on pace. In fact, the story’s simple premise gives way to an infinitely complex series of confrontations, with sword-battles always varied and occurring in rapid succession. Still, Miike manages to make each fight count, building Manji and Rin’s characters by cleverly keeping them on the underdog side of the spectrum. The story’s mystical overtones also exaggerate the story’s battle between good and evil. Here, the timeless struggle between moral extremes is brought to gleefully absurd heights yet has just the right amount of moral ambiguity. Above all, Miike balances themes of honor, duty and sacrifice within his spectacle like a master. Trust me, fans of the genre will love how insane the film gets, but somehow its massive final showdown (think a battle featuring a bodycount in the hundreds) still manages to maintain a tight emotional focus.

The human element of course benefits from two well-casted, charismatic leads. Kimura takes us into the story through Manji’s tragedy. There’s a stoicism to him that coexists with a gleeful hint of mischief, and he sells the film’s absurdity with straight-faced conviction. The film’s craziness feels real because of this approach, and the emotion always feels earned. Opposite, Sugisaki’s Rin offers up a voice of reason and moral perspective. Sugisaki makes Rin’s pain feel real, giving us the story’s stakes and keeping everything grounded. Together, these two are a great cinematic pair, opposites of the same coin that meet in the middle and are irresistible thanks to some palpable chemistry. They make the film endearing and give everything depth between the bloodshed. Making things hard on our heroes, Sota Fukushi’s Anotsu turns in a villain that’s interesting because he truly believes he’s right. These are the best types of antagonists, and though Fukushi isn’t as fleshed out as his prey, he’s what the film needs.

Objectively, it’s easy to see how the film is adapted from a dense collection of Manga. There’s a lot going on at any given moment, and the plot has no qualms chasing a few tangents along the way. Still, Miike has a handle on it all. The story’s shifting plot plays well with Mike’s sense of energy, and overall, ensures that nothing stays still for too long. Blade of the Immortal is one of the few films that delivers what it promises. It’s wild and unhinged, ultraviolent and has a style and rhythm that are infectious. It also helps that after all these years, Miike’s sense of gleeful sadism hasn’t dulled one bit, making his 100th feature a sharp reflection of his greatest strengths.

SG