Director: Takashi Miike
Release: 8 October 2017 (London Film Festival), 8 December 2017
From: Hanway Films
Format: Theatrical Release
Age Rating: 18
Manji the immortal swordsman stares down at his fallen opponent, blood splattered across his scarred face and a dagger in his hand. His breath is ragged following their heated fight, and as a wound to his chest heals the ghost of a smile lingers on his face. “You’re not the only hero of a sad story,” he says to his enemy, leaving the samurai in a pool of his own blood as the memory of his adopted sister’s death lingers in his mind. This exchange, the only real time that Manji chooses not to cut down his opponent, perfectly reflects the complex depiction of good and evil in Takashi Miike’s brutal new film Blade of the Immortal.
Adapted from Hiroaki Samura’s classic manga of the same name, Miike’s 100th film is an extremely violent tale, squeezing the storyline of 30 volumes into a two-and-a-half-hour film. It opens with the origins of its merciless lead character, and his desire for revenge on 100 samurai after his sister is killed before his eyes. Left fatally wounded Manji is ready to die, but an 800-year-old woman thinks otherwise and inserts bloodworms into his body which can heal any wound. Now immortal, we pick up the hero’s story 50 years later when a girl named Rin appears on his doorstep begging for help.
Alone in the world and desperate to avenge the deaths of her parents, she asks Manji to track those responsible, Anotsu Kagehisa and his band of unconventional swordsman in the Itto-ryu, so that she can kill them herself. What follows is an onslaught of bloody revenge as the pair search the countryside for the men she seeks. For a film that’s so violent you would think that it would be more interesting, but a distinct lack of meaningful plot and character development makes it hard to feel otherwise. Miike’s decision to fit so much into the film is probably the reason for this, because there are four distinct arcs in the manga to present onscreen we are given barely any time to get to know the characters, instead we are thrown from one fight to another with barely any context in between.
Miike keeps close to the original, hitting certain beats in the story that will probably please fans of the manga but sacrifices any chance to explore the characters and the reasons behind their actions at more than a superficial level. If we don’t get the chance to get to know the characters then why should we care if they live or die? Even Rin and Manji are hard to support, and it seems like more of an obligation to care for them as main characters rather than out of a genuine desire to see them succeed. It’s interesting that Miike would choose to adapt the story in this way, it’s certainly not an easy task to fit such a long story into one film when it could have easily been split into two or three. Takuya Kimura is fascinating as the jaded protagonist, at least, and with every snarl and swing of a sword he delves deeper into his character’s dark psyche.
This is most certainly a violent film, filled with exhilarating fight sequences and an interesting array of characters, but the lack of plot and character development stops it from being great. There’s just too much happening without any real progression for it to matter, and simply going from fight to fight isn’t enough. If anything, this film is entertaining for its fight scenes, but if you’re looking for something more substantial than that then you’re better off looking elsewhere.
Review by Roxy Simons