Blade of the Immortal Review
Sanjuro meets Oldboy, bloody Takeshi Miike-style
Legendary director Takeshi Miike celebrates his 100th movie in style, with a memorable adaptation of the Samurai Manga, Blade of the Immortal.Based on the first two out of four story arcs in the popular Japanese comic book (previously adapted as an anime series), Miike's Blade of the Immortal is an epic samurai actioner, the likes of which you're seldom - if ever - likely to get the chance to enjoy on the Big Screen. For such a prolific filmmaker, Miike still manages to celebrate his century in style, perfectly choreographing a swathe of stunning predominantly sword-based action sequences attached to a surprisingly rich narrative core.Within the first few minutes alone the body count threatens to hit triple figures, with an extended black and white prologue which is so damn good that Miike spends much of the rest of the movie attempting to top it. The samurai equivalent of a John Wick movie, Blade of the Immortal is rich with the feverish style and colourful characters from the comic book source, constructing an impressive blend of familiar samurai tropes and more unusual fantasy elements.
The story follows disgraced samurai Manji, who has a bounty on his head from killing a corrupt official. After almost dying taking out a legion of bounty hunters, he is given immortality courtesy of an ancient witch, who gifts him bloodworms that help bind him together when he sustains wounds or even loses limbs. After an orphaned teenager tracks him down to enlist his skills with a sword to kill the gang who slaughtered her parents, Manji gets swept up in a political war between the Shogunate and a rebellious warrior who seeks to reform the nature of fighters in the land by destroying all of the dojos and creating his own ultimate killer academy.
Whilst Miike's forte is clearly bloody action - as seen in both the brutal one-on-one fight sequences and the epic one-on-a-hundred battles - he also bends impressively to the vibrant world of the comic book source, offering up a succession of memorable opponents each distinctive in both appearance and fighting style, each adding a piece to the elaborate puzzle, whether through dialogue or flashback. Indeed Miike's tale is almost too adventurous, with it easy to see how his amalgamation of the source material's first two arcs could have - certainly in Hollywood hands - comfortably made for two separate features. By blending the two, the plotting becomes densely layered, almost too much so, but it also allows for some wonderful mirrored storytelling, reflecting the histories of protagonist and antagonist - both ultimately dipped in undeniable tragedy - as he plots out his elaborate revenge saga.
Whilst Miike's forte is clearly bloody action, he bends impressively to the vibrant world of the comic book source
Singer-turned-movie-star Takuya Kimura embraces the viciously-scarred, one-eyed lead role as Manji, happily taking to his bloody role hacking and slashing a swathe through all manner of opponents, carrying with him an impossibly large arsenal of diverse weaponry, although Miike's ultimate handle on the tone of the piece does tend to waiver once we get past that epic opening sequence, refreshingly dipping into comedy to add some levity to the otherwise bloody affair, but occasionally threatening to undo the sheer presence initially gifted to the protagonist. And whilst plotting is rich and complex, it's not always perfect, coming apart occasionally in not only the details but the drama, particularly where it turns to melodrama.
Ultimately these flaws can be largely forgiven and easily overlooked in the grand scheme of the epic 140 minute runtime, which gives it room to both lose and find its footing several times, and maintain more highs than lows, particularly as it builds to a staggeringly violent extended finale. Many modern productions could benefit from just one of Blade of the Immortal's memorable action sequences, and it has so many. If you get the chance to check it out before it disappears from the Big Screen then you won't regret it. Recommended.
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