Blade Of The Immortal

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Blade Of The Immortal
"Samurai revenge stories are not exactly thin on the ground and it takes something special to get attention today, but Blade Of The Immortal is just that."

In legend, across many different cultures, immortality frequently comes at a price. Those who possess it may suffer from chronic pain or be unable to escape unending grief over the loss of a loved one. These things are true for Manji (Takuya Kimura), but he also experiences a particularly grotesque form of suffering, for his body is held together by sacred bloodworms, and every time it gets cut open or a bit of it gets cut off, he has to endure the agony of them puling it back together.

Unsurprisingly, Manji is unhappy with his lot, and curses the mysterious old woman who did this to him following a battle. But the old woman has other concerns. When young Rin (Hana Sugisaki) sees her father murdered and her mother dragged away to be raped by fanatics who dream of uniting all Japan's dojos under their rule, the old woman directs her to Manji to help her embark on a campaign of revenge. It just happens that Rin is the spitting image of Manji's long ago murdered sister. This, and a belief that he might finally be rid of his curse, prompts him to accompany her - and along the way, a working partnership becomes something more.

Based on the popular animated TV series from 2008, Blade Of The Immortal also owes a lot to True Grit. Even before her family was attacked, Rin was training hard to become a fighter, but she's too small to pack the necessary force into her blows. Nevertheless, she refuses to give up, or to look the other way in the face of injustice, even when it's happening to an enemy. Should she wait until she's grown and able to fight better by herself? Anotsu (Sôta Fukushi), leader of the fanatics, declares early on that to rape someone as young as her would be vulgar. The message is clear: she must fulfil her quest quickly before the passing of time lowers her social status still further and puts new barriers in her way.

Inspired by the girl's courage, Manji rediscovers the passion he once found in battle. Director Takashi Miike has great fun with the fight sequences, upping the ante on his 13 Assassins because he no longer has to deal with the inconvenience of a hero who can get killed. There are some great comedy moments at Manji's expense as he hunts for missing body parts, but the action itself is quick and brutal; this is a director who has mastered the art of presenting stylised fight sequences that are also believable. He makes great use of misdirection, with familiar rules of cinematic action turned on their heads, and there is no shortage of bloody gore. Sugisaki is superb in providing counterpoint to this, her emotional journey providing a context for the violence that reminds us of its seriousness even when it is, artistically, at its most playful.

The other standout here is Fukushi, who makes his character much more than the standard obsessive villain. He's young to be leading an army even in a time and place with such a rigid feudal system, but has sufficient force of personality to convince even when showing us Anotsu's vulnerability. Naturally, this complexity is an indulgence not bequeathed upon the various end-of-level bosses Manji has to fight in the meantime, with only one of them expressing ideas of her own after a stunning demonstration of what a naginata can do even in a confined space.

Samurai revenge stories are not exactly thin on the ground and it takes something special to get attention today, but Blade Of The Immortal is just that. With (literally) gut-wrenching sound work and 13 Assassins alumnus Nobuyasu Kita's mist-shrouded cinematography adding a haunting quality to what is, after all, a fantasy tale, it's a stunning piece of cinema that you won't want to miss.

Reviewed on: 25 Nov 2017
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Manga tale of an immortal warrior, who cannot be released from his torment until he has killed 10000 evil-doers.

Director: Takashi Miike

Writer: Hiroaki Samura, Tetsuya Oishi

Starring: Takuya Kimura, Hana Sugisaki, Sôta Fukushi, Hayato Ichihara, Erika Toda, Kazuki Kitamura, Chiaki Kuriyama, Shin'nosuke Mitsushima, Ken Kaneko, Yôko Yamamoto, Ebizô Ichikawa, Min Tanaka, Tsutomu Yamazaki

Year: 2017

Runtime: 140 minutes

Country: Japan, UK


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