BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL (2017)
Samurai period piece tells the story of swordsman Manji (Takuya Kimura) who kills his corrupt master and bodyguards, only to realize too late that one of the bodyguards was the husband of his younger sister, Machi (Hana Sugisaki). This drives Machi crazy and puts a price upon Manji’s head. When confronted by a large group of men wanting to collect, Machi is killed and Manji escapes mortally wounded. An old witch (Yôko Yamamoto) gives him the power to heal his wounds and tells him he is now immortal. After 50 years of trying to overcome what he did to his sister, he meets a young girl, Rin (also Hana Sugisaki) who seeks revenge on a sinister swordsman (Sôta Fukushi) and his men for the murder of her parents. Can Manji finally achieve his desire for redemption if he helps Rin on her quest for revenge?
Samurai epic is directed legendary Japanese director Takashi Miike from a script by Tetsuya Oishi based on Hiroaki Samura’s manga. It is a blood-soaked story of redemption and revenge told in the style of classic samurai cinema, but with a generous dose of modern day cinema violence. There are some intense and bloody sword duels with a host of colorful characters and various weapons, as Manji and Rin draw closer to Anotsu Kagehisa (Fukushi) and his thugs. Along the way they meet many foes and a few allies and it’s well over two hours and hundreds of bodies later that we finally get the confrontation that we have been waiting for. Miike gives the story some nice emotional depth, as Mani seeks to finally end his tormented life and Rin seeks to avenge the death of her parents. If anything holds this epic back a bit, it is that it is slow paced and a bit overlong. The combination of the more moderate pace, like the samurai flicks it evokes had, and the extremely long running time, make this more of a slow boil with occasional explosions of gruesome action. By the time the last act bloodbath is reached, we’re ready for this to conclude. It’s never boring, but might have been a bit more effective at a somewhat tighter run time. Another issue is that with our anti-hero being immortal, even when he is greatly outnumbered, it’s hard to fear for his safety when we know he will eventually heal and even lost limbs will re-attach. It neuters some of the suspense. Technically the film looks sumptuous with cinematography from Nobuyasu Kita and has an atmospheric score by Koji Endo.
The cast are very good. Actor/singer Takuya Kimura was solid as the tortured swordsman Manji. He is a whirlwind of fury in the action scenes and has the chops to give strength to the dramatic scenes as well. Though immortal, Kimura let’s us know Manji’s wounds hurt and we feel the characters pain. Sugisaki is good in the role of Rin. She’s immersed in grief and a desire for revenge, but is a tough girl and the actress has us endeared to her in her quest. Sôta Fukushi gives us a lethal villain with his master swordsman Anotsu Kagehisa, who has the skill and ferocity to kill hundreds as he carves his way to dominance for himself and his clan, the Ittō-ryū. The supporting cast are also top-notch with characters ranging from the traditional to the more colorful and eccentric.
Miike is a versatile director that has made over 100 films ranging from horror, to crime thrillers, to period pieces such as this and his great 13 Assassins. This film shows his skill at both bone crushing action and dramatic intensity and that he has a love for the traditional, as well as, the ability to be innovative and original. If anything holds this particular flick back a bit, it’s that it’s moderate pace and extremely long running time sometimes work against a story that is driven by numerous action set-pieces. Still very recommended for fans of these movies and certainly for those who appreciate Miike’s films.