Premiering Out of Competition at Cannes this year, Blade of the Immortal is a samurai film based on a manga by Hiroaki Samura and directed by Takashi Miike (13 Assassins, Audition). Though there is a skeleton of a story (the usual – revenge, which leads to plenty of fight scenes), the film truly shines during the crazy fight scenes that by the end involve every type of weapon possible.
A ronin has put a price on the head of samurai Manji (Takuya Kimura – Howl’s Moving Castle, Hero). In the ensuing battle, the ronin orders the killing of Manji’s sister. Overcome by anger and grief, Manji kills every member of the group responsible for his sister’s death. However, in doing so he has sustained wounds that are mortal. As he lays dying, an 800-year-old nun Yaobikuni (Yoko Yamamoto – Where Florence Sleeps, The Family), who he had previously encountered, plants sacred bloodworms into his body. This renders him immortal.
Fifty-two years later Manji is sought out by a young girl named Rin Asano (Hana Sugisaki – Her Love Boils Bathwater, Pieta in the Toilet), who wants the samurai to help her avenge the death of her parents at the hands of Kagehisa Anotsu (Sota Fukushi – To Each His Own, Tomorrow I Will Date with Yesterday’s You) and the Itto-ryu. Initially he is not interested, but after he is himself attacked by someone from the same group Manji is full in.
The action found here is completely far-out and grotesque at times. They are long and skillfully choreographed. All this should not be surprising as it is the 100th film in the career of director Takashi Miike. Miike has built quite an array of bloody, breathtaking samurai/fight films. He has obviously learned tons over the course of his previous 99 others. As such all his fight scenes fall into the masterful category. And, let’s not kid ourselves, the fights are why you watch a movie like this. What could be better than a lot of splattering blood, arms and legs flying and dismembered heads. All these scenes are heightened by the choreography primarily though the sound, production, editing, costume, sets, and hair and make up add plenty to the whole thing.
Another plus is the cast. They all bring much to the characters they are portraying. Sugisaki and Kimura pack plenty of emotion into the story. Kimura is truly playing against the type of roles he usually takes. In the past he usually stars in romantic roles while in this one he is bloody and scarred all over his body including his face. His looks and charm are certainly not utilized. Miike surrounds their performance with good production values and paces the film expertly. It is not just fight after fight as there is some space between so you can catch your breath.
If you are going to see one crazy, beyond the realm of possibility samurai film this year it should be Blade of the Immortal.