One of Japanese cinema's most recognised and controversial modern filmmakers, Takashi Miike, returns with his 100th production – Blade of the Immortal.
For his centennial directorial outing, the prolific filmmaker has chosen a live action adaption of the Manga series of the same name. The film follows Manji (played by Japanese superstar Takuya Kimura), a samurai who becomes immortal at the hand of an 800-year-old witch following a near-fatal attack from a group of bounty hunters. The main narrative is one of a girl employing the help of a reluctant warrior to avenge the death of her parents who are murdered by the Ittō-ryū - a legendary Japanese Kenjutsu school. However, while an action-heavy ‘chanbara’ (or swordplay) film at its core, its slew of outlandish characters adds a surreal slant to proceedings.
Miike San’s chaotic action style lends itself well to this style of adaptation and the end result is a madcap blend of comic book action and video game carnage. This isn’t the first time the director has dipped his toes in the bloody Manga pool; his previous adaptation - 2001’s ‘Ichi the Killer’ - was an ultra-violent, highly controversial affair that was banned outright in several countries.
The films stylish monochrome prologue sets the scene for the Japanese director’s latest offering that contains many of his favourite traits - surrealism, humour and violence. Its numerous action sequences are bloodthirsty, chaotic (hardly unexpected considering the source material) and well choreographed. Stylistically, save for a few acrobatic leaps and jumps, the swordplay is more akin to that found in traditional samurai films than those in the ‘wire-fu’ films that saw a rise in prominence in western cinemas at the turn of the century.
The final product is one of the director’s more accessible films (in comparison to the likes of the aforementioned ‘Ichi the Killer’, ‘Visitor Q’ or ‘Audition’) that successfully incorporates his flair for surreal fantasy and violence in a more conventionally palatable package. However, given the source material, the movie’s over-the-top tone and the main characters thirst for bloody combat, it seems like a rare missed opportunity by the film director to truly turn the violence dial up to eleven. That said the action and body count still hits top gear in the final frenetic act that sees Manji confront an army of government soldiers and the Ittō-ryū.
Some may find the level of violence off-putting and with a run-time clocking in at 140 mins, the film runs the risk of outstaying its welcome during the slower paced middle act. However, the Feudal setting and intense action make this an enjoyable adaptation – especially for someone looking for a comic book movie that isn’t all about capes and problematic facial hair.
BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: TAKASHI MIIKE / SCREENPLAY: TETSUYA OISHI / STARRING: TAKUYA KIMURA, HANA SUGISAKI, SÔTA FUKUSHI / RELEASE DATE: DECEMBER 8TH
Expected: 8 out of 10