Blade of the Immortal
Director: Takashi Miike
Starring: Takuya Kimura, Hana Sugisaki, Kazuki Kitamura, Sota Fukushi, Hayato Ichihara, Erika Toda, Chiaki Kuriyama, Tanaka Min
Asobe Rin (Sugisaki) has been training for revenge ever since the night when her father was murdered and her mother taken by the Itto-ryu, a formidable group of swordsmen and their charismatic leader Anotsu (Fukushi). Knowing she doesn’t have the strength to get revenge on her own, she searches out Manji (Kimura), a warrior who has been infected with mystical bloodworms, healing every wound his body may take. As the two begin the long road to revenge, they must navigate the perils of ambushes, corrupt government conspiracies, and their own pasts to see that justice is meted out to the evil men of the world.
Marking prolific director Takashi Miike’s 100th film, Blade of the Immortal is an energetic and solidly realized adaptation of the excellent manga by Hiroaki Samura. While it comes with a hefty running time, clocking in at 151 minutes, it has a lot of ground to cover but does an admirable job of it despite making some necessary omissions from the source.
Takuya Kimura, formerly of recently disbanded supergroup SMAP, continues to surprise me with his acting ability; he takes Manji into a somewhat more hearty direction, thanks in no small part to his much more statuesque physique compared to the wiry and spindly character proportions for which Samura is known. He instills the necessary gruffness but quiet honor of Manji in the manga, but with seemingly much more humanity than the original. It should be noted that the classic ‘manji’ character is still present in on the character’s clothes, albeit in a much more stylized calligraphy that definitely helps with the international sales prospects. Young actress Sugisaki is a virtual unknown to me, my only experience is a supporting voice acting role in Studio Ghibli’s When Marnie Was There. She impresses however and is as close to Rin as i could have imagined. She embodies the character’s spunk, personality, and even looks like the character. As a young actress I look forward to seeing what else she can do, which seems to be a lot after a brief look at her upcoming list of works. The chemistry between Kimura and Sugisaki is also quite good, a certain long take sequence in the middle of the film is both terrifically performed but also emotionally rich. The growth of camaraderie between the two truthfully felt more believable than the manga thanks to Miike’s restrained touch in the dramatic moments. He chooses instead to truly showcase the film’s brutal manga roots with explosive bits of violence, expertly choreographed swordplay, and a variety of fights that have on full display the bloodletting with which Miike is seemingly synonymous.
Blade of the Immortal seems to have a little bit of everything that you’d want in a modern chanbara picture. It doesn’t strive to be anything more than its unabashed source presents and while it doesn’t elicit the visceral reaction of Miike’s 13 Assassins remake, it still remains one of the best action pictures of the year and a perfect example of Miike’s growth as a mainstream director who hasn’t quite lost his gonzo filmmaking sensibilities. Very recommended.