BFI London Film Festival: Blade of the Immortal

Blade of the Immortal
Blade of the Immortal (Mugen no jûnin)
Directed by Takashi Miike
Starring Takuya Kimura, Hana Sugisaki, Sota Fukushi, Ebizo Ichikawa, Hayato Ichihara, Erika Toda, Min Tanaka, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Kazuki Kitamura, Chiaki Kuriyama, Shinnosuke Mitsushima and Ken Kaneko
Screening at LFF October 8th, 9th, 2017

by Joanna Orland

Marking Takashi Miike’s 100th film, Blade of the Immortal is a stylish swashbuckling samurai film which brings the Manga comic its adapted from to life. The story is reminiscent of Wolverine’s last outing Logan, in that Manji (Takuya Kimura) is a self-healing blade-wielding hero acting as a bodyguard to a young girl, one he sees as a surrogate sister. The similarities end there, as while Logan attempted to bring a seriousness to comic lore, Blade of the Immortal remains tongue in cheek.

The film may actually have more in common with Scott Pilgrim vs the World, another comic book adaptation. Much like Scott Pilgrim, Manji must face a series of cartoonish villains, each battle a ludicrous set-piece with fantastic fight choreography. Infinitely gorier than Scott Pilgrim however, Blade of the Immortal is ridiculously over-the-top violent, with that cartoonish edge preventing it from being too upsetting to watch.

Manji is the immortal with the blades – having been doomed to immortality as a curse for having killed many people. An elder woman bestows this ‘curse’ upon him by infecting him with Sacred Bloodworms of the Holy Lama, at the moment he lay dying after having sought vengeance for the death of his little sister. Never having got over the loss of her, Manji is eager for redemption when young Rin (Hana Sugisaki) approaches him for help. Her parents were murdered by outlaw group Ittō-ryū, led by the gorgeously effeminate Anotsu.

Femininity plays a large role in Blade of the Immortal, as Rin, the elder woman, a female Ittō-ryū warrior, and Anotsu are the only characters to truly question and stand up to morally ambiguous deeds. The film explores the ideas of good vs evil and vengeance in its overt subtext, taking a firm stance that nothing is black and white. When Rin first approaches Manji for help in her revenge quest, he explains to her that the Ittō-ryū are not ostensibly ‘evil’, but they are fighting for their cause, which in turn means that Rin is not evidently ‘good’. Moral ground is explored further in what it means to kill, who deserves such a fate, and so on. Anotsu confronts Rin with his truth, ringing true Manji’s words. Anotsu is merely taking revenge for his family, much as Rin is for hers – when will it end, he often questions. Anotsu and Rin are very much kindred spirits in many ways.

The action is brutally enthralling and at two and a half hours, it becomes visceral. The villains are each ridiculous in their own right, one more absurd than the next. The comic book aspect is blatantly obvious with these characters as they are almost set up like ‘boss fights’. Only these ‘bosses’ have the cartoonish look and way about them, while everyone else blends in with the scenery. There is almost something Tarantinoesque about this film.

What is jarring with Blade of the Immortal is the editing – cuts do not flow seamlessly from one to the next, often creating confusion. When Rin and Manji encounter their first boss fight, I literally thought I’d blacked out for a few minutes as I could not tell where he came from or what was going on. When the villain revealed his mawkish sadism, I quickly forgave the nonsensical edit and focused solely on the action and intrigue.

A visual feast of a hyperreal samurai film, Blade of the Immortal is enthralling. Takashi Miike is a prolific director, but this film will surely standout amongst his catalogue.


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