Manji, a highly skilled samurai, becomes cursed with immortality after a legendary battle. Haunted by the brutal murder of his sister, Manji knows that only fighting evil will regain his soul. He promises to help a young girl named Rin avenge her parents, who were killed by a group of master swordsmen led by ruthless warrior Anotsu. The mission will change Manji in ways he could never imagine - the 100th film by master director Takashi Miike.
/ South Korea
Directed by: Takashi Miike
. Starring: Takuya Kimura
, Hana Sugisaki
, Sôta Fukushi
, Hayato Ichihara
, Erika Toda
, Kazuki Kitamura
, Chiaki Kuriyama
, Shinnosuke Mitsushima
, Ken Kaneko
, Yôko Yamamoto
, Ebizô Ichikawa
, Seizô Fukumoto
, Min Tanaka
. Music by: Kôji Endô
Over-the-top and excessive are two phrases that can be pointed in the general direction of director Miike Takashi: the high-octane montage that greets us to the Dead or Alive trilogy; the comical blood-splatting of Ichi the Killer; the extensive battle scene of 13 Assassins. All are examples of pushing cinema to its limits of taste, morality and viewer boredom threshold.
The third is an interesting one. His late Nineties and early new millennium films were often notable for their excessive violence, however, this violence was often creatively twisted into place alongside other, often stronger elements. The nature of relationships and power balances between characters in Ichi the Killer; the slow-building tension of Audition; the nostalgia of Nostalgia. With the budgets more limited, Miike would seemingly earn his stripes and get creative, but now with the budgets and hype much greater, has excess simply become self-indulgence? Based on the manga, Blade of the Immortal, the supposed ninety-ninth film of Miike's now one hundred not out career, starts with Manji (Takyu Kimura) with a price on his head, fighting off a hoard of bounty hunters, while trying to protect his younger sister. A troubled, masterless samurai, Manji duly fights them all off, but at the cost of numerous wounds. Pouring blood worms into his wounds, a mysterious old woman heals Manji, giving him the curse of immortality, though the same cannot be said for his sister. Switching forward fifty years, Manji has been living a desolate life alone and un-aged, but is sought by the young daughter of a dojo master killed by the Itto-ryu: a school determined to resurrect the skill of sword-fighting as a necessary evil, unlike the simple physical education it has become. Wary at first, Manji vows to help Rin (Hana Sugisaki) get her revenge, largely, it seems, because she resembles his young sister. Bloodshed ensues as the Itto-ryu (and others) challenge Manji to battle one-by-one, soon discovering his immortal powers. The Itto-ryu also seek to become the Shogun's fencing school of choice, but find themselves deceived by the Shogun's army resulting in a three-way stand-off between Manji and Rin, Anotsu (Sota Fukushi, the head of the Itto-ryu) and the Shogun's vast forces and some other side story characters thrown-in again at the end to further the silliness. What results is a perhaps overly-long sword fight between hundreds of men and a couple of women in the vein of 13 Assassins.
On balance, there is probably more bad than good with Blade of the Immortal. Over-indulgence perhaps the main problem. While we expect this to be a slash-fest with arms chopped-off galore, when this is the main crux of the film, it becomes a little tedious. An obvious comparison, Ichi the Killer centred around two main characters and their sadomasochistic relationships with those who hold power over them. The gore is an amusing and fun distraction, rather than the main draw.
Here, Miike chooses to go for long, drawn-out fight scenes that offer little after the first thirty seconds other than just adding to the body count. Little is particularly developed in terms of characterisation, other than Manji coming to terms with immortality being a fate worse than death and his explanation to Rin that revenge only leads to bloodshed - something Miike adequately shows. Villain Anotsu delivers a surface-level monologue midway through the film, but beyond this, the audience is given few clues as to whether to love or loath him.
Extended fight scenes is nothing new to Miike, with 13 Assassins having the mother of all battles, but this was an epic battle to which the film had been building, rather than a extended slash-fest, having already had some earlier slash-fests.
The film looks pretty in parts, with some good cinematography and the special effects fit the bill. But as a bigger, more anticipated release than perhaps his films in the Nineties received, the bigger scale has come at the cost of creativity. His peer Shinya Tsukamoto still works to limited budgets, but still creates some inventive and interesting works.
Manji is referred to as the Hundred Man Killer and Miike is now a one hundred production director. But with his recent trajectory, his career seems not so much immortal, rather a slow death.
Review by politic1983 from the Internet Movie Database.