There’s no rest for the wicked in Takashi Miike’s epic manga adaptation.
“You’re lucky. You can die.”
In recent years, director Takashi Miike has taken something of a liking to adapting manga into feature films. While that’s arguably always been a trademark of his – A Human Murder Weapon was one of his first films and adapted from the comic by IkkiKajiwara – it’s not until recently that the majority of his productivity has gone into them. Following up from the huge success of both Thirteen Assassins and Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai, Miike continues his Chanbara streak with an adaptation of Blade of the Immortal.
Based off the manga by Hiroaki Samura, Blade of the Immortal centres on Manji (ex-SMAP member Takuya Kimura), a samurai who is cursed with immortality by an 800-year old nun after his sister is killed by ronin and he dies in a valiant (and pretty amazing) battle against 100 of them. Now living in a small fishing shack, he is visited by a girl called Rin (Hana Sugisaki), whose parents were murdered by anarchist Kagehisa Anotsu (Sota Fukushi), who has been going around to martial schools and killing the heads, in order to establish his own. Rin wishes revenge against Anotsu, and Manji hesitantly accepts.
Blade of the Immortal has been advertised as Miike’s 100th feature film which is an insane number for anyone working in the industry, and even crazier a number for someone who’s been in it for fewer than thirty years. What this translates to is a film that has barrels of experience behind it and a larger than usual budget, which also manages to retain the director’s schlocky violent style. If you look past the decent production values (and you shouldn’t, because here they actually accentuate everything you’ve come to love from the director), there’s a tonne of classic Miike style in there, usually in the form of some pretty grim and extremely entertaining violence.
Like similar samurai stories before it – like Ninja Scroll or RuroniKenshin – this movie features the standard genre beats. A villager in distress calls upon a dark and brooding protagonist to fight a series of themed minibosses before making their way to the Big Bad. You’ve seen it a dozen times, and you’ll see it plenty more in the future. Where this archetype succeeds, however, is in the ways it switches up its villains by giving them interesting gimmicks and foibles. Strangely, though, this isn’t the film for those kinds of characters, even though it would have been exactly in Miike’s wheelhouse. Quite a few are glossed over, in fact, especially at the beginning so it’s difficult to get much of a grasp on what their “deals” were.
Perhaps, then, it was exactly what Takashi Miike and screenwriter Tetsuya Oishi were thinking when they chose to make the film cover more than one arc from the manga. Clocking it at almost two and a half hours, Sword of the Immortal is the sort of property you could have seen split into two movies, like the ill-fated Attack on Titan ones. But by opting to go for a longer story, we get to see another side to Fukushi’s villainous Anotsu, and the story is richer because of it. Does the film has an abundance of villains? Probably. There are like a hundred here to keep track of, and by the time it’s all finished you feel like you’ve gone through a dozen or two episodes of an anime.
But thankfully, keeping it all together is Miike’s trademark ridiculous style, loaded with plenty of incredible sword fights, countless dismemberments, and a host of visually interesting and stylistically cool weapons. This film is absolutely drenched in blood, and is all the better for it. Like Ninja Scroll it thrives on its hyperviolent swordfights and big set pieces because like I mentioned above, the story and the characters are all fine, but they’re nothing really to write home about. The performances, both from the actors and their stunt doubles, do plenty of heavy lifting here.
Blade of the Immortal is a perfect blend of old-school, v-cinema Miike and the new, high-budget “good” filmmaker he’s become. The direction is excellent, while often hinting back at his past. Combining everything he’s learnt in the last 27 years into one big, bloody celebration of excellent swordsmanship was a fine choice. It might not be to everyone’s tastes, but I say bring on the next 100 films.
Verdict: Blade of the Immortal knows exactly why you’re here, and delivers.
Overall entertainment: 8/10
Sex: Some attempted rape, I guess?
Lopped off hands: Make a drinking game out of it
Chiaki Kuriyama: Absolutely wasted in her tiny role
Best cameo: Tsutomu Yamazaki from Tampopo! Always a welcome face.
Blade of the Immortal (2017)
Also known as: 無限の住人(Mugen no jūnin)
Director: Takashi Miike
Writers: Tetsuya Oishi (screenplay), Hiroaki Samura (manga)
Takuya Kimura – Manji
Hana Sugisaki – Rin Asano
Sota Fukushi – Kagehisa Anotsu
Hayato Ichihara – Shira
Erika Toda – Makie Otono-Tachibana
Kazuki Kitamura – Sabato Kuroi
Chiaki Kuriyama – Hyakurin
Shinnosuke Mitsushima – Taito Magatsu
Ichikawa Ebizō XI – Eiku Shizuma
Min Tanaka – Kagimura Habaki
Tsutomu Yamazaki – Kensui Ibane