Blade Of The Immortal (Cert 18)
1 Disc Blu-ray/DVD (Distributor: Arrow Video) Running Time: 141 minutes approx.
It goes to show how prolific maverick Japanese director Takashi Miike is, that apparently he wasn’t aware Blade Of The Immortal was his 100th film until somebody mentioned it whilst he was making film number 102! And he has only been making films since 1991!
For his centennial outing, Miike has adapted the manga by Hiroaki Samura that ran for almost a decade, amassing 31 volumes. A 12-episode TV anime was made in 2008 but ended on a sour note as the manga was still ongoing then, but like this film, it did adapt the bulk of the material of the first two arcs of Samura’s original story.
A black and white prologue introduces us to samurai Manji (Takuya Kimura), fighting off an army of men out to arrest him for killing his corrupt lord. During the melee Manji’s younger sister Machi (Hana Sugisaki) is killed by a gang of ronin so Manji slaughters them all. As he lay dying, a mysterious veiled old woman Yaobikuni (Yoko Yamamoto) plants sacred bloodworms of the Holy Lama into Manji’s wounds making him immortal.
Now in colour we jump forward fifty years to the fencing dojo of the Asano family, and the arrival of the nefarious Itto-ryu, a group of swordsmen wanting to control all the dojos in Japan. Their leader Kagehisa Anotsu (Sota Fukushi) kills the head of the family, then allows his men to rape and kill his wife whilst their young daughter Rin (Sugisaki again) is held outside.
The next day Rin encounters Yaobikuni, who points her in the direction of Manji as hired help to exact her vengeance on Anotsu. Manji is reluctant, wanting to continue his life of solitude, until Itto-ryu member Sabato Kuroi (Kazuki Kitamura) attacks a helpless Rin, forcing Manji to change his mind. When word spreads that the “100 Man Killer” is protecting Rin, Itto-ryu rush to consolidate their power and have Manji stopped.
I have to confess that I had actually forgotten that I had seen the anime version of this, and consulting my review archives, it seems I wasn’t overly impressed with it. This might mean scant comparisons will be made between the two adaptations but I can say that both pretty much follow the original story quite faithfully, and that the Swastika symbol on Manji’s jacket has been replaced by a new emblem.
Miike starts as he means to go on, the very first image being blood splattered against the ground, setting the pace for many gallons of claret being spilt over the next 141 minutes. Gore hounds will also delight in the numerous limbs that are severed and in on instance, an entire body is sliced up into pieces. But, this is a Miike film so you probably were expecting that anyway.
Just because Manji is immortal, doesn’t mean he is immune from being sliced, hacked, stabbed, garrotted or even suffering the odd paper cut – he is the most consistent victim of the violence meted out. But unlike his foes, Manji can rely on the bloodworms in his body to heal his wounds or reattach severed limbs so he can fight on for another day, leaving a gallery of scars all over his face and body that no doubt all have fascinating stories behind them.
However, this handy rejuvenation skill essentially telegraphs the outcome of every fight Manji gets into (double figures, surely), since we know that no matter how severe his injuries are, he can’t die. Or can he? One encounter sees Manji face off against another carrier of the bloodworms who has formulated a poison that can counter their abilities, while Manji’s own depressive will proves to also offer resistance to the one thing keeping him alive.
One thing Miike is able to do which the anime couldn’t is to externalise the inner turmoil Manji endures as an indestructible being, fighting on not just to atone for his violent ways or the avenge his sister, but in the nihilistic hope that one day someone will finally finish him off. Of course, he grows attached to Rin, largely because she resembles his dead sister but because she cares for him when prior to this, he had no-one.
Rin is the emotional crux of the story and a curious parallel and inverse to Manji’s plight; Rin is too scared to fight for fear of dying yet Manji can’t wait to be killed, yet both are driven by the bloodlust of vengeance. In some ways, Rin is typical of a Miike woman in that he doesn’t know how to use them beyond being either sex objects or victims, yet aside from some violence towards her, Rin is spared much of this but isn’t as strong a character as she should be.
Anyone who has seen Miike’s stupendous 13 Assassins will know what he can do with a sword fight and whilst there are plenty on offer here, the final act again features an epic multi-man face-off between Manji and hundreds of opponents with unexpected help. It isn’t another 45-minute showstopper but it is a lot of fun, a superbly choreographed, big scale set piece involving concurrently running fights with a huge body count.
Takuya Kimura, former member of boyband SMAP, impresses as the battle-scarred and world-weary Manji in both his performance and his fighting skills. Young Hana Sugisaki handles the drama scenes well but has little involvement in the action, which should be rectified when she plays Soul Reaper Rukia Kuchiki in the upcoming live-action Bleach movie. Also keep an eye out for a barely recognisable Chiaki Kuriyama as a blonde assassin.
Even if Miike wasn’t aware this was his 100th film, there is a sense that Blade Of The Immortal wasn’t just another day at the office. It’s a stylishly shot and delightfully staged affair, if relentlessly melancholic with no musical score, sober tone and continual violence, feeling every bit as long as 141 minutes, but bloody hell, it’s action packed fun!
Japanese 5.1 Stereo
English HOH Subtitles
Takashi Miike on Blade Of The Immortal
Audio Commentary by Tom Mes
Reversible sleeve featuring theatrical poster art and original artwork
Blu-Ray Special Edition:
Japanese 5.1 DTS-HD MA Audio
High Definition 1080p Presentation
Manji vs. 300 Featurette
Extensive Cast And Crew Interviews
Illustrated Collector’s Booklet
Plus Limited Edition Steelbook Blu-ray – 4000 copies only
Rating – ****
Man In Black