Let’s say it’s Valentine’s week and you don’t care. You and your hairy legs or Cheeto-bedecked beard want to avoid that Hallmark cash-in in favor of some quiet time with a great movie. Good news! Loads of really good stuff comes out this week! Good times.
One hundred films in, you might expect director Takashi Miike to start repeating himself.
He does, in a way, with this big screen adaptation of the manga Blade of the Immortal, the tale of a samurai cursed with immortality.
Though Miike sticks mostly to genre work (horror, samurai, yakuza), his style veers wildly from one project to the next. Still, a thematic thread can be found in a lot of his films that questions the relevance of societal conventions. Though this theme was explored with a far more subversive touch in his 2001 gem Ichi the Killer, Blade of the Immortal shares a lot in common.
Manji (Takuya Kimura) is an insider on the outs. A samurai who’s killed his masters, he’s already doomed as the film’s prologue unwinds in gorgeous black and white. As Manji butchers his way through dozens of reprobates looking for the bounty on his head, Miike invites us into the hyperbolically brutal world of his imagination.
But it’s here, on the ground bleeding out surrounded by carnage of his own making, that Manji is gifted with immortality—a gift he takes to quite begrudgingly. Forever an outsider wanting to get farther out, he eventually takes up with an orphan bent on revenge.
Rin (Hana Sugisaki) lost her parents to outlaw bladesman Anotsu (Sota Fukushi) and his gang. Anotsu is an outsider who longs to be accepted. He’s skilled and serene where Manji is brutish and disheveled. They are opposite sides of the same coin, and for Rin’s sake, they become mortal enemies.
It’s not such an unusual plot, honestly. Though screenwriter Tetsuya Oishi complicates things with one side plot about Anotsu’s quest for acceptance and another about a rogue band of bounty hunters, the film basically boils down to one guy taking remarkable injury as he dispatches others due to sworn vengeance.
For two and a half hours.
Miike populates the corpse-strewn landscape with intriguing characters. Sure, they mainly exist to be dispatched by Manji, but each brings enough fresh personality and style to keep battle fatigue from setting in.
As is the case with his best efforts, Miike’s flair for fight staging, action choreography and bloodspatter—all of it in abundance—is on display. The result is a gorgeous, bloody mess that treads familiar ground but never wears out its welcome.