MANGA + MIIKE = MARVELOUS
Blade of the Immortal
Review by Ray Schillaci
With the introduction of the prolific director’s 100th film, Takashi Miike turns to the ever popular Japanese Manga comics to bring his unique vision to the screen. Spefically, one with a big fan base, Blade of the Immortal. This story of a lone samurai that cannot die, recruited by a young girl to avenge her father’s death has been just as popular as its anime version. Miike has taken the best of his storytelling skills and brought to life the characters from the anime world. Blade of the Immortal is an intricate tapestry of devastation and death with a dash of his signature dark humor.
For those familiar with Takashi Miike’s bloody body of work, you know he can be shocking, morbidly funny, and very often he can deliver a very dark side of Asian culture that not all of us can stomach. The trailer alone for his infamous Ichi the Killer was so hardcore in its violence, I could not bring myself to watch it all the way through. The movie that placed him on the map for American audiences, Audition, still remains as one of the most disturbing and grisly pieces of cinema.
There are two other sides to Miike that are just as impressive. The silly one that delivers such raucous adventure fare as Sukiyaki Western Django, an English language Japanese Spaghetti Western, and Yakuza Apocalypse, where a yakuza vampire faces off against a karate fighting frog that turns into a Godzilla-like monster. For those uninitiated…yes, you are reading this right. Then there are his much lauded samurai films Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai and 13 Assassins.
Miike’s Blade of the Immortal is a samurai story that could easily be compared to the 2017 hit Logan. The June of ’93 Manga predates Old Man Logan by fifteen years. The similarities: a regenerative samurai, his assortment of deadly blades, and the troublesome young girl that travels with him. But the main character, Manji, leaves far more bodies than all the Wolverine movies put together. Each battle builds to more outrageous challenges. Even though he’s supposedly immortal, we can’t help but wonder how he’s going to survive the next onslaught.
On the surface, Miike’s latest movie may come across like a wall-to-wall action film rolled into a samurai lover’s wet dream, but it is far deeper. Miike explores the bond of siblings, the ugliness of revenge, the obsession of honor, and the impending sadness of immortality. That’s quite a bit, loaded into some of the best swordplay with a smidge of the supernatural.
This classic story travels down a violent path, with Manji the Immortal’s tragic backstory leading to his immortality, and his eventual bargain years later with a young girl seeking revenge for the family that was slaughtered. There is the side story of a cruel master samurai seeking to claw his way up to the top with his variety of assassins that will pose as worthy challengers to Manji. So diverse in each of their skills, the confrontations bring us to the very edge of suspense.
Miike’s film is beautifully shot with an acrobat’s skill of capturing some of the most breathtaking choreographed samurai scenes put to film. From glorious black & white to brilliant HD color, this is the only movie I know that can equally get your blood pumping while spraying so much of it on screen. Yet, believe it or not, the violence is tame next to more extreme Miike movies. As with 13 Assassins, this could be one of the director’s most accessible films.
Sure, there are the requisite Miike moments that will make some squirm. But there are a multitude of sequences where you think he’s going to dip into his signature gorehound feeding ground, and lo and behold, Miike has his brilliant cinematographer, Nobuyasu Kita, dance around the grisly exhibition only to keep his trained eye in the midst of mayhem. The display is a wondrous balancing act.
Miike’s 100th film is more relatable in large part due to his two gifted actors, Takuya Kimura as Manji the Immortal and Hana Sugisaki doing double duty as Rin Asano, the veangeful girl and Manji’s haunting past…his innocent younger sister. Together, the two actors have a chemistry that ignites our feelings eliciting memorable funny and poignant moments.
The other actors seem to emulate more from the Manga itself as if the characters were lifted from the pages. They’re not as fleshed out as our two leads, but still so much fun to watch. Also, it must be pointed out that there is not a distinguishing line between good and evil. At first, it appears that away. But as Miike’s epic moves through its flurry of paces, that fine line that divides good and bad is blurred quite a bit, which makes Blade of the Immortal so much more interesting and keeps our attention throughout its 2 hour and 20 minute running time, leaving us near breathless and in awe of Takashi Miike’s skill as a master storyteller.
Directed by: Takashi Miike
Release Date: November 3, 2017
Run Time: 140 Minutes
Distributor: Magnet Releasing