Blade Of The Immortal review: Takashi Miike returns to the manga genre for this loud, brash and very violent affair that just about manages to hold the viewer’s attention for its very long run time.
Blade Of The Immortal review by Paul Heath at the Festival de Cannes 2017.
Blade Of The Immortal is filmmaker Takashi Miike‘s one-hundredth as director. Averaging three helming gigs a year since his feature debut Shinjuku Triad Society in the mid-1990s, Miike’s work has often delighted (Audition, Ichi The Killer), but sometimes disappointed (Ninja Kids anyone?).
Blade Of The Immortal (Mugen no j?nin in its native tongue) is a period action/ drama/ splatter-fest based on the manga book of the same name by Hiroaki Samura. The source material is actually a series of titles set in Japan during the mid-Tokugawa Shogunate period. Our protagonist here is Manji (Takuya Kimura), a samurai who is introduced to us in glorious black-and-white at the start of the movie, where he is seen slaughtering a hundred men who offed his younger sister. As a result of killing all of these men, Manji has been blessed/ cursed with immortality by a mysterious woman in a white gown. Fast-forward fifty years and we’re reintroduced to the warrior who is living a life of solitude. That is until a young girl named Rin (Hana Sugisaki) comes into his life following the horrific murder of her own family to an evil group of master swordsmen with interesting haircuts, led by ruthless warrior Anotsu. Obviously seeing parallels between his own life and that of the young Rin, Maji takes her under his wing and promises to protect her and seek out the horrid gang to get her revenge.
I must admit to not seeing much of Takashi Miike’s more recent work, so it was a joy to be reintroduced to the prolific filmmaker with this, his latest work enrolled in the Un Certain Regard section of Cannes 2017. Miike’s style is all over the film from the outset – it’s true that blood is even visible on the production company cards, soiled across the logos that precede the first frames. This is proper splatter territory from the off, Miike’s brand of twisted, unrelenting gore and ultra-violence laced through – albeit it with a hint of comedy too. As mentioned previously, the filmmaker employs black and white to distinguish and colour the two time periods, something that the former uses to slightly mute the scenes of barbarianism in the early scenes. Make no mistake, this is an all-out action film from the outset, obviously drawing on its manga source material heavily and amping up the stakes with no-holds-barred, unrelenting, though supremely choreographed fight sequences pretty much one after the other. In a film that lasts nearly two-and-a-half hours in length, the constant batterings and bone-crunching beatings get a bit much after about the first half, the filmmaker and screenwriter Tetsuya Oishi choosing to focus more on this than any attempt to flesh out some of the more secondary characters.
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That said, Miike sprinkles enough humour throughout to slightly dilute the gore and intense battle scenes, as well as present a pure, though deeply unsettled character in Rin, one played superbly by the young Sugisaki. There’s a lot to like in the film, but its butt-numbing run-time with scenes that could possibly have been omitted or at least trimmed definitely works against it.
Clearly a potential franchise film, Blade Of The Immortal will no doubt delight die hard fans of the manga world, and indeed those of this genre of cinema, but its repetitiveness, unrelenting banging and slashing may start to disturb the rest after a while.
Blade Of The Immortal review by Paul Heath, May 2017.
Blade Of The Immortal debuts at the Cannes Film Festival 2017 on May 18th.