Manji, a highly skilled samurai, becomes cursed with immortality after a legendary battle. Haunted by the brutal murder of his sister, Manji knows that only fighting evil will regain his soul. He promises to help a young girl named Rin avenge her parents, who were killed by a group of master swordsmen led by ruthless warrior Anotsu. The mission will change Manji in ways he could never imagine - the 100th film by master director Takashi Miike.
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Since his first film in 1991, Japanese director Takashi Miike (Audition
, Ichi the Killer
) has pumped out an average of almost four movies per year. A little quick and dirty math reveals that Blade of the Immortal
is the filmmaker's 100th film.
Blade of the Immortal
is about a samurai warrior named Manji (Takuya Kimura from Hero
) who, after witnessing the murder of his sister, single-handedly takes on a tribe of swordsmen. He fights valiantly and kills most of the men, but in the end, he is defeated. An elderly nun grants him immortality until he kills one thousand evil men. Fifty years later, a girl named Rin Asano (Her Love Boils Bathwater
's Hana Sugisaki) tracks Manji down and asks for his help avenging her parents who were killed by a group of shoguns led by the ruthless Anotsu Kagehisa (Sôta Fukushi from Tomorrow I Will Date with Yesterday's You
). Together, Rin and Manji depart on their journey, her seeking revenge and him seeking redemption.
Based on the popular manga series by Hiroaki Samura, Blade of the Immortal
was adapted for the screen by Tetsuya Oishi (Death Note
). It's more action and martial arts oriented than Takashi Miike's more horror output, but there is plenty of slice and dice gore, so the hardcore Miike fans won't be too turned off. Essentially, Blade of the Immortal
is nothing more than a standard Joseph Campbell Hero's Journey, complete with unlikely allies, reluctant heroes, and surprise mentors - and an epic confrontation with a formidable foe. There's very little new ground broken, but there doesn't need to be. Movies have been doing this for decades, and Blade of the Immortal
does it better than most.
For a martial arts/combat movie, Blade of the Immortal
gets the job done. Manji is a sympathetic and relatable hero, one for which the audience roots in spite of all of his flaws. The characters that he and Rin encounter along their quest are colorful and memorable. Clocking in at almost two and a half hours, the movie is a little bloated, particularly during the slower-paced middle section, but that's all part of the long, drawn-out voyage. The Hero's Journey isn't always all action and hype.
For his 100th movie, Takashi Miike teamed up once more with cinematographer Nobuyasu Kita, who has shot other Miike movies such as 13 Assassins
and Over Your Dead Body
. Blade of the Immortal
is a gorgeous looking movie, with the photography telling the story just as much (if not more) than the script itself. The film is full of long shots and lengthy takes which let the story unfold organically amongst the beautiful locations that always seem to have just enough fog and mist hanging in the air to look ominous and mysterious. In typical classic kung-fu style, the important characters are each assigned a bright primary color to make them stand out from the neutral-looking average foot soldier, which is important when all hell is breaking loose during the major climactic fight scene. Kita and Miike paid extensive attention to every detail of the cinematography in Blade of the Immortal
, and the results are visually striking.
Although Blade of the Immortal
has its share of breathtaking fighting, it's mostly confined to the first ten and the last twenty minutes of the movie. That leaves a lull of almost two hours where there's not a whole lot of action. Things do happen in that middle section - characters meet, emotions are stirred, and secrets are learned - but the action is slim.
When they occur, the fight scenes that are in the movie are pretty badass. The battles are well choreographed and flawlessly executed. It's almost exclusively swordplay (with a few throwing star attacks tossed in for good measure), and the heroes dispose of their enemies in droves, slicing and dicing and chopping and stabbing until the ground is covered with corpses. The multi-level fight scenes are painstakingly blocked and shot, with action occurring in both the foreground and the background, the viewer sometimes unsure of where to look to see the best carnage. When Blade of the Immortal
is showing a fight, it's impossible to not get into it. It's just a shame that there's not more of that awesome combat in it.