Blade of the Immortal / Mugen no jûnin (dir. Takashi Miike, 2017) – A young girl seeks the help of an immortal samurai in her quest for vengeance.
Versatile seems a word too small to describe a filmmaker with over a hundred productions under his belt and not a genre untouched. Comedy, sci-fi, family movies, and extreme cinema – Takashi Miike has done them all and done them well. It is both impressive and baffling how the directors behind Audition and Zebraman could actually be the same man.
In 2017, his 100th film greeted in the form of manga adaptation Blade of the Immortal. Just months after kooky comedy The Mole Song and bizarre monster movie Terra Formars, Takashi Miike had stepped into dark fantasy territory with no beats missed, just like a seasoned veteran would.
Introduced with a black-and-white prologue, samurai Manji (Takuya Kimura) steps immediately into a savage ambush. His sister Machi is brutally killed, spurring his rampage where he takes on an entire army of ronin by himself. He has his bloody revenge and is mortally wounded. But just as he accepts his death, a centuries-old nun implants blood worms in him, healing his every cut.
The gift becomes a curse that leaves him unable to die. For fifty years, he lives in solitude, until Rin Asano (Hana Sugisaki) seeks him out. Reminded of his deceased sister, he decides to wield his sword again and help the young orphan to avenge her murdered parents.
Whereas the opening is artfully done, the story that follows is a pure excuse for grisly carnage, and unabashedly so. It is notably tame by the standards of someone who made Ichi the Killer, which had shot him to international notoriety. But there is no lack of lopped limbs, impaled torsos, and spurting wounds.
Fans of the genre would find plenty to enjoy. Rage-fuelled bloodbaths play out in consecutive chapters of assassination attempts. Formidable adversaries of Ittō-ryū form a bee line for Manji’s head, unfazed by the streets of red they follow. Each comes with distinctive traits that threaten to outshine Manji’s strategically cut facial scars, though none last long enough to take his place.
Some barely flinch with a sword plunged through their chest. Others leap straight into the line of fire. Where losing an arm means nothing but a flesh wound, the stakes are low. But it is hard not to root for the immortal and his vulnerable ward throughout their insane battles, even if the former does seem better off dead.
Expect no less than excessive and outlandish in Takashi Miike’s Blade of the Immortal that thrives on its ultra-violence.