The movie has been launched at Cannes last spring and here it is, at BFI London Film Festival, where the director will be also part of the guest list and will preside one of Screen Talks whose tickets sold out literally minutes after opening the sale.
“Blade of the Immortal” screened at BFI London Film Festival 2018
“Blade of the Immortal” is based on the long and extremely popular Hiroaki Samura’s homonymous manga saga. A short prologue in sharp black and white sets the mood and introduce us to Manji, a feudal Japan samurai, facing a horde of hundred rough bandits that threatens his little sister. When the hooligans cowardly kill the girl, Manji’s reaction is a carnage; he kills them all. Desperate and critically wounded, the samurai seems to accept death as a benevolent relief, but a mysterious veiled Nan rescues him, inserting a handful of Sacred Bloodworms in his blood stream. These restorative worms will thrive in Manji’s veins and will give him the supernatural power of immortality. 50 years later, we find super Manji alive and kicking but not particularly pleased to be immortal, living like an outsider in an isolated hut. He is soon contacted by little Rin, the daughter of a local Kendo sensei, who has been killed by icy Anotsu, head of the infamous Ittō-ryū gang. Manji learns from Rin that the Ittō-ryū is undergoing a sort of globalization project, inviting all the small schools and dojos to amalgamate into a massive, mix bag of a martial art institution. Little choice have the senseis though, as they are mercilessly killed upon refusal. This has been Rin’s father fate and the girl is out now, looking for revenge and a mentor, and the resemblance with Manji’s little sister hits the samurai’s right button.
Therefore, this odd couple (compares with “Logan” are inevitable) embarks on a quest after Anotsu’s punishment and along the way, they will meet a stream of colorful foes.
From this point onward, the narration turns into a bizarre mode, very adherent to the concept of a manga “series,” where each opponent is a chapter “per se”, almost a manga volume in its own right, in contrast with the usual manga-to-live-action adaptations where the script tries to merge the episodes into a whole narrative line. Interesting as it is, Miike’s experiment risks dragging the movie, and at two-and-a-half-hour runtime makes it a bit repetitive, though always fun and visually dazzling.
“Blade of the Immortal”, like “13 Assassins”, belongs to the collection of Miike’s calmer and more well-mannered movies, far for the wacky surreal ones. At the same time, don’t expect a traditional chanbara. The plot is spiced up and enriched by touches of supernatural and frequent comedy shots and the parade of challengers on our heroes’ path is a gaudy bunch of punks, totally oblivious of any historical consistency.
Weaponry, as on the manga, is bombastic and extravagant and Manji’s fight strategies are as rule-breakingly fun as immortality can allow. Why not chop your own trapped hand off, if you know it will grow back? On the other hand (excuse the pun) as witnessing yet another duel, you might wonder: “why bother if you are immortal?” but this is the double edge of the narrative stretch I mentioned earlier. However, the fights are well choreographed and captivating, especially the massive final showdown.
Slightly aging, massive pop star Kimura Takuya fits well in the moody and battered Manji’s shoes and he manages to infuse it with the right amount of sense of humor and grumpiness. Sugisaki Hana as Rin does her best but her character is not very well developed by the script, and therefore the couple suffers from a lack of chemistry. Fukushi Sota is Asano, a bit too boy-band-faced for the part maybe, but one can’t say he is not consistent with the whole Ittō-ryū bunch and their camp Manga aesthetic.
All in all, despite feeling a bit repetitive, “Blade of the Immortal” is entertaining and fun and it will please the genre fanbase. An immortal super-hero seems a playful way to honor this bountiful director. Long live Takashi Miike!