Out this week in cinemas is Blade of the Immortal the 100th film from highly prolific and controversial Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike. This latest film from Miike is a manga adaptation about an immortal samurai known as Manji (Takuya Kimura) who is tasked by Rin (Hana Sugisaki) a young girl to help her hunt down and kill Kagehisa Anotsu (Sōta Fukushi) the head of a new school of samurai who destroyed her family in his pursuit of power.
This is my first foray into the work of Takashi Miike and after experiencing the full absurdity and gore fuelled anarchy of Blade of the Immortal I’m going to check out his back catalogue. The characters are memorable and over the top making sure that after the credits roll you’ll remember who your favourite was. A particular highlight for me was the antagonist of the piece Anotsu, learning about his motivations and why he is cutting his way through Japan was fascinating. Fukushi has a potent presence and commands the scenes he is in deftly with a combination of cutting words and even sharper swordplay.
No villain is complete though without an equally compelling protagonist and there is an engaging double act in immortal Manji and vengeful Rin. Their relationship starts off as begrudging protector and determined avenger and ends up as something more akin to older brother and sister. Kimura sells the world-weary immortal and as you watch this film Sugisaki helps sell to the audience that she has defrosted his frozen heart over the course of the blood-drenched adventure. It’s their relationship that helps the film keep you invested as some scenes drag out too long and this is one of the major issues with Blade of the Immortal, at 151 minutes long it overstays its welcome by about 30 minutes.
Miike is no stranger to adapting manga, having adapted several manga properties over the years and he has crafted a loving adaptation to this manga but he crams half the series into the film leaving the audience little room to breath as Manji carves his way through the many subordinates of Anotsu in spectacular fashion.
On the subject of cutting down his enemies Manji takes on several notable warriors each with a distinct style of swordplay. Each of these duels are enjoyable but there is a major flaw that isn’t truly addressed in my opinion, because of Manji’s immortality his opponents don’t feel as threatening as they should, there are one or two notable exceptions but after a certain point in the film Manji’s opponents should have tried more innovative ways of dealing with him and his unkillable nature.
The best aspect of Blade of the Immortal hands down is the cinematography, the film is lush, vibrant and is brimming with style and when you couple that with memorable characters, over the top action and an emotional score you have an enjoyable time at the cinema especially if you’re in the mood for immortal samurai fighting for the honour of a young teenager.