By: MADDI MCGILLVRAY
Starring Takuya Kimura, Hana Sugisaki and Sôta Fukushi
Written and directed by Takashi Miike and Tetsuya Oishi
Warner Brothers and HanWay Films
From Wes Craven and George A. Romero to David Cronenberg and Guillermo del Toro, horror has seen the rise of several influential filmmakers who have impacted both the genre and the film world as a whole. That said, few are as prolific as Japan’s Takashi Miike. Over a decade ago, Miike shocked audiences around the globe with his controversial masterpieces Audition (1999) and Ichi The Killer (2001). Since then, Miike has remained a consistent presence in the film industry – Blade of the Immortal marks his 100th film. While Miike is most well known for his extreme cinema, his versatile body of work is hard to narrow down to a single genre or label. Blade of the Immortal is certainly one of those films.
Blade of the Immortal is an adaptation of the popular Japanese manga series of the same name by Hiroaki Samur. Miike casts one of Japan’s biggest stars, Takuya Kimura, as Manji, a highly skilled samurai who is blessed/cursed with immortality. After a battle that resulted in Manji killing one hundred men, a mythical old crone implants ancient bloodworms inside of him, which allow him to heal himself and grow back his own limbs. Haunted by the brutal murder of his sister, Manji is left to wander around feudal Japan as a criminal. The film then transitions to fifty years later, where Manji meets a young girl named Rin (Hana Sugisaki), whose parents were killed by a group of master swordsmen led by the ruthless warrior Anotsu (Sôta Fukushi). Rin bears a striking resemblance to Manji’s sister, and in a True Grit-like story, he promises to help her avenge the death of her parents.
Blade of the Immortal successfully merges the over the top conventions of samurai films with Miike’s flare for violence. The fight scenes are breathtaking, action-packed and blood-soaked, with every battle feeling different and inventive. Each of Manji’s opponents wield an array of unusual weaponry that adds to their individuality – they also add great rewatch value! Most notable is the film’s jaw dropping twenty-minute long final battle, which reportedly involved over 300 people and took more than two weeks to film.
The acting also is well delivered, with Takuya giving a near spotless performance as Manji. While protagonists in samurai films often have superhuman abilities that make them nearly impossible to defeat, Manji’s personal dilemma is compelling in the way that he is plagued by his immortality. He is not an immortal in the same way as superheroes like Wolverine, but more like someone who is forced to stay and stuffer on Earth forever. Despite his endearing chemistry with Hana Sugisaki, who also delivers a strong performance, it is Sôta Fukushi who is the surprise scene stealer with his quiet, soft spoken demeanour and androgynous appearance.
Whether you are familiar with the original source material or not, Blade of the Immortal is a true mark of Miike’s prolific career. It combines Miike’s penchant for blood-spatter and close-up shots of severed limbs and may even earn the title as 2017’s film with the largest bodycount. Perhaps he, too, feels like an ageless warrior who can’t be harmed and keeps coming back for more.