LFF 2017: Blade of the Immortal Review
More on BFI London Film Festival 2017
Of all the things you can say about director Takashi Miike, one-note is not one of them. Whilst best known for his 1999 shocker Audition, he’s also done crime, action, samurai drama, live action anime and video game adaptations, even a musical; the bizarre and twisted The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001). His latest movie is Blade of the Immortal, another live action manga adaptation, and his 100th feature as a director. He’s even got two more films set to come out this year. In short, the man is non-stop. However, the downside to such a prolific turning out of movies is that by the law of averages not all of them can be gems. One Missed Call (2003) is a serviceable, if not particularly memorable, horror, and last year’s Terra Formars received more than a few negative reviews. So where does Blade of the Immortal fall?
Manji (Takuya Kimura) is a swordsman who lives a cursed life; his bloodstream is full of strange worms which allow him to heal from any injury. The father of a young girl named Rin Asano (Hana Sugisaki) is killed by a group of master warriors called the Ittō-ryū led by Kagehisa Anotsu (Sōta Fukushi) and she swears revenge, hiring Manji as her bodyguard. The two face a surprising range of foes, some of whom may even be too much of a match for the warrior who cannot die.
There are moments of this movie that are pure cinematic beauty. Unsurprisingly, this is mostly in the fight scenes, which are a wonderful mixture of artistic cinematography and brutal violence. The opening especially, which shows how Manji came to be an immortal, is told in black and white in a way that is almost evocative of a Jidaigeki drama; a period drama, frequently based around samurai, before colour bleeds onto the screen. Takuya Kimura is also a compelling performer in the central role of Manji. He’s very much the reluctant hero; gruff, rude, and full of attitude but always able to come through if needed. Yes, it is a very well-worn archetype, but Kimura does it well.
There would be a danger of the fights in a movie like this to get somewhat repetitive even with the dazzling and over the top choreography; Manji meets the next member of Anotsu’s group, they fight, the opponent thinks they have the upper hand but Manji wins due to his immortality, yet there are enough differences to keep you engaged in each different opponent. However, at 151 minutes the movie does drag quite a bit, unsurprising when you realise that Miike is attempting to condense a series that ran for 30 volumes in manga form. As such there are certainly parts of the story which could have been condensed considerably or even dropped entirely. One thing in particular is the Mugai-ryū, a group of potential allies for Manji and Rin who have their own agenda, they serve very little purpose other than to pop up for a few scenes and for a certain character to turn up briefly later. It feels unnecessary.
The biggest flaw with the movie comes with the character of Rin. Not in the performance, Hana Sugisaki does a fine job and has fun chemistry with Takuya Kimura, but in the character. She is annoying and does very little that’s useful in her own revenge quest. Every time you think she might actually do something Manji steps in to take the action instead. It’s frustrating, not to mention odd when she is introduced as a plucky and dedicated student of her father’s sword style. Manji needs someone to motivate him after the events of his path, fine, but when you look at something like Logan, which has the similar set-up of a reluctant fighter motivated to protect a young girl, Laura at least is capable of doing things and fighting for herself at times. It is an element that is carried over from the original manga, but this is one of those cases where a change to the story for a film adaptation would have been welcome.