Blade Of The Immortal starts well and truly as it means to go on. As per usual with this site, I’m not going to divulge any plot details, but this truly epic film is book-ended by two absolutely spectacular battle sequences.
Astonishingly, this is blood-letting extraordinaire and Japanese controversy-baiting shock-auteur Takashi Miike’s 100th film . Yes, that’s right. His one hundredth film!
After dabbling in samurai period classics by remaking the fabulous ‘Zatoichi’ and sort-of Seven Samurai / Magnificent Seven remake ’13 Assassins’ , Miike returns to the genre to make another beautifully exquisite and epic story that’s as much about Sibling love, Witchcraft and the afterlife as it is about ambition, (extremely) violent revenge and honour.
You know you are off to a good start when nearly a hundred swordsmen have been killed within the first ten minutes and Miike sets his blood-spattered stall out from the off, kicking off the plot in artsy (and gore desensitising) black-and-white, possibly returning the homage that Tarantino lovingly ‘borrowed’ during the ‘Kill Bill’ ‘s legendary House Of Blue Leaves sequence. The main character Manji (Takuya Kimura) rightfully earns himself the frankly awesome nickname The ‘Hundred Man Killer’ in the process, along with some suspiciously prosthetic-looking facial scars.
Through some mystical plot arcs which I shan’t spoil, feared warrior Manji then set off on an age-long quest to find vengeance, inner peace and regain his honour for his fatal failings.
Much like the classic Western staple of the lone, reluctant outsider Manji’s quest is spurred on by a young girl named Rin (Hana Sugisaki) who stumbles upon him eating alone by the campfire of his river-side shack. Also like any good Western, the initially reluctant hero is soon lured into action and the breath-taking bloodshed begins (or maybe that should be resumes?)
His quest (clocking in at a whopping 141 minutes in the UK) is epic in every sense. A huge array of characters, predominantly human, some supernatural interweave the plot as a series of duels, stand-offs and sieges hamper Manji at every turn, whether it be eliminating his mortal foes, being ambushed by witless bandits on leafy forest roads or having to sort out imposter warriors cashing in on his frankly awesome nickname and reputation.
Although the film is punctuated with magnificently choreographed violence and action, it does also take frequent time to breath, fleshing the characters out and allowing them to muse philosophically to each other about love, honour, duty and the afterlife in between killing swathes of anonymous goons. I did find these scenes slightly draining (Battle Royale II’s lengthy musings on terrorism and warfare had a similar affect on me),
Perhaps the film is fifteen to twenty minutes too long, or perhaps I was watching a 141 minute film that started at ten o’ clock at night, having been up since half six in the morning? Maybe upon repeat viewings I may have a bit more patience and energy for these slower parts, which in essence helped to stave off the dreaded battle-fatigue and of course had a quiet beauty to them, making this brutally violent cinematic epic so much more than just typical blood and guts revenge thriller.
One factor to the film I definitely was not keen on (and wouldn’t be at any time of day) was the persistent screeching and shouting of Rin, who was frantically trying to summon Manji into action, warn him of foes, cajole him back to life (it’s not a spoiler just see the title!) or berate his endless army of enemies. Either way, her high-pitched, throat-stripping screech became incredibly annoying by the end of the film, especially in super-duper state of the art surround sound.
The climactic battle was highly reminiscent of Miike’s fabulously under-rated (in this country anyway) ’13 Assassins’ as a perfect storm of heroes and villains converges at an isolated village for a truly jaw-dropping finale which sees an entire army despatched and then dispatched in their attempts to bring Manji and his mortal nemesis, the incredibly effeminate but deceptively deadly Anotsu Kagehisa (Sota Fukushi).
The film is punctuated with humour and some amusing running jokes which means the film is, on the whole, thrilling, fun and enjoyable and manages the superbly tricky feat of being both extremely violent and bloody and yet comparatively tame as well (especially by Miike’s standards.
This is the same man Takashi Miike who made hyper-OTT-kill fest ‘Ichi The Killer’ and the supremely disturbing ‘Lessons In Evil’, after all.
Overall a truly excellent, sumptuous, masterfully-choreographed revenge thriller that requires a small pair of ear plugs, a medium-sized dash of patience and a big suspension of disbelief.
For best results, start with the magnificent ’13 Assassins’ and work your way up.