Filmmaker Takashi Miike’s 100th film, Blade of the Immortal, is based on the Japanese manga of the same name (in English: in Japan its called Mugen no Junin, which translates to The Inhabitant of Infinity). It’s the story of a samurai named Manji, who after killing 100 samurai, including his sister’s husband, is cursed by an 800-year-old nun. Manji then must kill 1000 evil men to regain his mortality. His immortality comes from mysterious blood worms that heal almost all wounds, even reattaching severed limbs.
The manga is a rich story with beautiful artwork, created by Hiroaki Samura. Miike captures the soul of the manga in a poetic, hyper-violent (though not particularly as gory as some of his other movies), and moving film. The series is lengthy; Dark Horse published 30 volumes of trades, but Miike condenses the story into just over two hours and though I haven’t read nearly every issue, the film feels full.
After a prologue, where we see Manji (Takuya Kimura) murdering several warriors, acquiring the curse, and trying to protect his sister, we jump ahead 50 years and join a teen girl, Rin Asano (Hana Sugisaki), whose father runs a dojo where she is being trained in the ways of the samurai. During dinner, the dojo is attacked by Kagehisa Anotsu (Sota Fukushi) and the Itto-ryu, a gang of rogue samurai that is traveling across the country destroying traditional dojos and claiming misfit samurai to their gang. After murdering Rin’s father and ordering his men to gang rape and kidnap her mother, Rin is left untouched. She vows revenge. Before she sets off though, she meets the same nun who had cursed Manji and instructs Rin to find him and hire him as a bodyguard to help her get her revenge.
Blade of the Immortal is a sprawling epic of magic and swordplay. It’s a layered story with complex characters. The dialogue is funny at times, the action is heavy, and the fight scenes are almost exhausting in their breadth. Anotsu and his gang aren’t typical villains, nor is the good vs. evil struggle black and white. The performances all around are great and the fight sequences are on par with something like Mad Max: Fury Road, where I wondered how in the hell people weren’t actually getting hurt in the bigger scenes. It’s really an immersive world and once the credits rolled, I felt like I needed to dive into the entire manga series.
Miike’s filmography (and he’s added three more films since Blade) is incredibly varied, from children’s films to violent crime and horror films. The controversial Ichi The Killer was banned or censored in some markets and his entry into the Masters of Horror series, “Imprint,” was pulled by Showtime for disturbing content, and this was in a series full of dark and disturbing content from several different horror directors. He directed the modern horror classic Audition and a Power Rangers-esque duo of films called Zebraman. He’s made a number of samurai and Yakuza films, notably the Dead or Alive trilogy and 13 Assassins. At only 58, Miike could still have decades more to work, which is such an exciting prospect for a director who’s so imaginative, innovative, crazy, and prolific. Blade of the Immortal, as his 100th film, is a wonderful story to tell and worthy of such a landmark from one of the world’s greatest directors.
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