BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL (Japan | UK/16/140mins)
Directed by Takashi Miike. Starring Takuya Kimura, Hana Sugisaki, Sôta Fukushi, Hayato Ichihara, Erika Toda.
THE PLOT: Samurai Manji (Takuya Kimura) finds himself on the run with his sister after he turns on his superior. Mortally wounded in a legendary battle that leaves his sister dead, Manji is cursed with immortality and decides the only way for him to save his soul. Fifty years later Manjii is sought out by a young girl named Rin (Hana Sugisaki), whose family was brutally murdered by ruthless warrior Anotsu (Sôta Fukushi).
THE VERDICT: ‘Blade of the Immortal’ marks director Takashi Miike’s 100th film behind the camera, and is based on a Manga of the same name. The story is a big, old-fashioned warrior revenge flick, but there are times when the 140 minute running time feels all too evident.
The lead cast, Takuya Kimura, Hana Sugisaki and Sôta Fukushi, do well with their roles, showing tenacity, ferocity and strength throughout the film, and making their characters come to life with motivations that feel real and rounded. Manji, played by Takuya Kimura, perhaps goes through the strongest evolution throughout the film, and he is a character that is frustrating at times, but one who the audience finds themselves rooting for.
Tetsuya Oishi’s screenplay, based on Hiroaki Samura’s Manga, creates a world full of heightened characters that feel as though they belong in the world of the film. The film struggles, however, in getting between the glorious and violent fight sequences that punctuate the film. The transitions between the fights are the parts of the film that feel drawn out and slow, and as though the film is dragging its heels, and just waiting for another conflict to happen, just to kick the pacing up as a notch. As well as this, there are times when the character of Manji is sketched strangely, and alternates between ferocious and defeated, leaving it hard for the audience to root for him, even though we want to.
As director, Takashi Miike makes sure that ‘Blade of the Immortal’ is beautiful and striking throughout, and does not sky away from bloody violence, but there are times when it feels as though he struggles in making the overall arc of the story truly engaging and well paced. That said, everything comes together in the end, with old scores and new ones being settled on the battlefield.
In all, ‘Blade of the Immortal’ is a beautifully shot, but frustratingly paced film. Everything comes together by the final act, but the road that the audience travels over the 140 minute running time sometimes feels as though it is going nowhere. The overall feel is rewarding, but there are times when ‘Blade of the Immortal’ feels like a slog, rather than an adventure.
RATING: 3.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    Takashi Miike is one of Japan’s most productive filmmakers. He also happens to be the most outlandish, with only Sion Sono rivalling him in the crazy department. When he’s not making mash-ups like the vampire yakuza of Yakuza Apocalypse, he can make more measured films like Blade Of The Immortal, his 100th film (!).

    Manji (Takuya Kimura) is a wandering samurai who faces off against the villain who murdered his sister. He has to get through his army of minions first, whom he defeats but suffers mortal wounds in the process. Manji feels that it’s his time, but witch Yaobikuni (Yoko Yamamoto) decides that he must continue living and fighting. She puts bloodworms inside him, which quickly heal his wounds therefore rendering him immortal. Fifty years later, teenager Rin (Hana Sugisaki) watches as her father is murdered by Anotsu (Sota Fukushi). He’s a calculated samurai who is forcing other samurai to join his gang… or face the consequences. Rin’s mother disappears as well. Seeking vengeance, she tracks down Manji to act as her bodyguard and kill Anotsu. This roaring rampage of revenge is about to start, for both of them…

    The grandly-titled Blade Of The Immortal recalls Miike’s earlier samurai films 13 Assassins and Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai. Feudal Japan is an era rich for story potential, as the great sensei Akira Kurosawa once proved. Blade Of The Immortal has a more supernatural angle than the previous films, but that’s balanced out with an involving story that sees Manji and Rin form a co-dependency. They’re certainly an odd couple: the scarred, world weary Manji, who staggers from one fight to another, patching up missing body parts along the way; and the naive, foolhardy Rin, who could take on Anotsu by herself if that’s what it came to. The nearest cinematic equivalent would be Leon and Mathilda from Luc Besson’s film.

    Miike takes his time with the story, letting it stretch well over the 2-hour mark. But when the story is this rich and detailed, it doesn’t come across as slow. There’s no narrative fat here – just a great story with an undercurrent of humour to immerse yourself in. That’s not to say that Miike doesn’t show off with his trademark gore, stylish camerawork and ferocious, superbly-choreographed fight sequences. Miike is not one to believe in the old Bruce Lee movie cliche that when faced with an army of warriors, they can only attack you one at a time. Miike throws them all at Manji, the camera swirling around him as they keep on coming and he keeps on dispatching them. Just when you think that Miike is repeating himself, he ups the ante, with a bravura finish. Miike is careful to show Manji’s vulnerability at all times, with each fight and wound taking its toll. Immortality comes at a cost and may not be limitless.

    For fans of Miike and Japanese cinema in general like this reviewer, Blade Of The Immortal is a must see. It’s terrifically staged and is always interesting, with an even balance between drama, action and suspense. ****