Blade of the Immortal
Michael Potts | 14/11/2017
A gory extravaganza of violence and revenge, Blade of the Immortal is a potent cocktail for lovers of samurai films, though it is inconsistent and held back by some rather bizarre creative choices.
Helmed by famed director, Takashi Miike, Blade of the Immortal follows the fallen samurai, Manji (Takuya Kimura), the film’s titular immortal. He is left dying after a battle with his sister’s murderers, but is saved from certain death by Yaobikuni (Yoko Yamamoto), an ageless crone who infects him with regenerative ‘bloodworms’. Unable to die, he lives in isolation for 50 years until the rise of the Itto-ryu dojo, headed by the skilled and ambitious fighter Kagehisa Anotsu (Sota Fukushi), leaves Rin Asano (Hana Sugisaki) orphaned. Rin, seeking help in exacting her revenge, enlists Manji as her bodyguard, bringing forth a succession of increasingly bloody duels and battles, and giving Manji the chance to find something to live for.
What is striking about this film is the vibrancy of its characters. Manji and Rin are faced by a veritable rogues gallery of oddball fighters. Costume design is a particular strength, with the majority of named characters sporting a colourful array of outfits, and in some cases makeup or body art. Each is given a clear sense of personality without even having to open their mouths. In most cases, there is only so much behind the visuals, with flair overriding depth. But, in the context of the film and the size of the cast this is appropriate, with the storytelling restricted to a smaller subset of full roster.
In that regard, most attention is paid to Manji, Rin, Anotsu and a couple of others. The result is something of a mixed bag. Rin can almost be defined by her inability to do anything without Manji doing it for her, which is understandable given her age but it doesn’t seem as though she develops much herself as opposed to simply existing as Manji’s raison d’etre. Manji himself is rather typical in his anger and sadness, given meaning only by his connection to an orphaned girl. Kimura delivers a robust performance, but given his character’s limited emotional range he can only do so much. Anotsu is similar in that he rarely breaks out of a suave stoicism, though he becomes integral to the film’s central theme of revenge in an unexpected way.
The plot as well is a mixed experience. It does a good job of pacing itself, introducing a slow burn of individual confrontations before introducing third-party conflicts and larger fights. However, some threads are tied up too quickly or are left hanging completely. Two notable antagonists even disappear from the film completely without being shown in combat (which is doubly a shame given the diverse fighting styles and weaponry of many of the other characters). These issues of character and plot can likely be traced to the manga on which the film is based, but they are not the only problems.
The central attraction of Blade of the Immortal, the action, is similarly a strangely varied experience. The fight choreography itself is generally very well done. However, the climactic final battle is almost boring in comparison to the smaller fights as it degenerates into a procession of endless grunts being cut down by single strikes. What can be maddening at times is the camera work. It sometimes fails to properly capture combatants’ full sets of movements, and in the non-combat scenes there are a few isolated instances where characters pop in and out of the shot. It isn’t a major issue, but it feels clumsy when it happens. Some of the film’s editing is also sloppy, as characters can be shown in different fighting stances, and even with different weapons after a shot transition, which makes following the action even harder at times. While not fatal, these issues are certainly detrimental to the film.
A flawed celebration of gory swordplay, Blade of the Immortal is saved by an exciting cast and boisterous action. It can be a frustrating film at times, but if you want blood you’ve come to the right place.