Blade of the Immortal Review
In black and white, one lone samurai stands against a gang of wandering Ronin. The Ronin have the man's sister hostage, mad with grief over the death of her husband. In a bid to get her released the samurai throws his weapons down. However, the leader of the Ronin still strikes the samurai's sister down. Enraged the samurai proceeds to kill every single Ronin. While he manages to cut each one down the samurai himself is mortally wounded. A nun approaches as the samurai lays dying and proceeds to place what she calls "sacred bloodworms" on the samurai. As the worms squirm into his wounds, the screen fills with colour as he screams and the title card flashes.
Thus opens Takashi Miike's adaptation of Hiroaki Samura's Blade of the Immortal. It turns out that the bloodworms the nun implanted into the samurai gave him a sort of immortality and as a result he is forced to live forever as others age and die. 50 years later, a young girl is training to be a swordsman in her father's dojo. One night a group of wanderers come to the door, called the Itto-Ryu. They are a band of samurai seeking to unite all dojos under their banner. The young girl's father refuses and is promptly killed by the band, while her mother is raped. In her quest for vengeance, she comes across the immortal samurai and together they trail across Japan tracking the Irro-Ryu, and unwittingly get themselves involved with a governmental conspiracy.
Takashi Miike should be well known to those with an interest in Asian Extreme cinema, with films like Ichi the Killer, Audition and Thirteen Assassins. He has been working in the film industry for almost 30 years and has well over 100 films to his name, each holding a unique style that is all his own. Here in Blade of the Immortal we get that ultra-violence and dark humour and because the main character is an immortal no matter how badly he is sliced and cut will not die, this allows Miike to drown the screen in blood and inject gallows humour in nearly every scene.
It is when we get to these bits the film comes alive. Miike has made his name with sequences - like the opening scene - drenched in body parts and fluids that should never really see the light of day. The variety of weaponry, styles of fighting and numbers of people can be breathtaking. We have people fighting with axes, swords, saws, spears, weird metal bits, even sharpened bone protruding from severed arms. However, more than that, the fights offer an opportunity to get a glimpse at who these characters are and how the world of Blade of the Immortal works. Sometimes these scenes are great, like the fight between Manji, the titular immortal and the other long-lifer Eiku Shizuma, or the secondary antagonist, the masochistic Shira.
That said, most of the time any information revealed during the fights sequences becomes dull and repetitive. Like, for example, when Rin - the young girl who is on a quest to avenge her father - tries to confront anyone, finds out she actually can't and has to be saved by Manji. However, while the action sequences are expertly made, well shot and plotted, it seems to come at the expense of other important elements. Whether this is due to its origins as a more long-form medium, that of manga which is designed to concertina depending on its popularity. As such the story becomes truncated and rushed, with plot points, character backstories and characters themselves that were important to the manga's story (often taking up to 10-20 chapters to explain) getting rushed into two minutes segments; it makes the story make sense but regarding engagement, there is something lacking.
Regardless, the fights are entertaining and the actors put their all into crafting unique and instantly engaging characters. Takuya Kimura as our immortal lead Manji, a character ripped out of Wolverine’s gruff mould. Kimura is perhaps best known for being involved in Boy Band SMAP and Studio Ghibli's Howl's Moving Castle, playing against type in Blade of the Immortal as a suicidal and indestructible samurai. He is a striking screen presence, growling most of his lines and putting his young female co-star down. However, while it may sound like Manji is a bully and a brute, like Logan he has a strong connection to the young girl he has sworn to protect. This connection is emphasised by some great chemistry between Kimura and his young co-star Hana Sugisaki as Rin. The villains of the piece, however though well written, like the morally grey Kagehisa and the previously mentioned Shira, are a little under-utilised and simple in the grand scheme of things and there is little development to mark them out as anything other than meat for our heroes to kill. This could have been a great ensemble cast, it is just a shame that outside of the main cast, the actors don't have anything much to work with other than a strong look.
With regards to the actual disc itself, Arrow Video have made a solid disc, one that you would expect. This high-quality 1080p image and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack does not have any digital errors on the playback. The image is crystal clear, and you can see each tree leaf during one of the fight scenes. The extras included are also an excellent addition to the film. There is an interview with Takashi Miike, commentary from an Asian cinema expert Tom Mes and finally (on the Blu-ray only) a behind-the-scenes featurette on the shooting of the film's climatic action sequence. It is a disc that plays to Miike's strength as a purveyor of popular violent cinema and his position in Asian cinema.
Overall Blade of the Immortal is a film that fails to properly adapt from its more long-form origin leaving the plot as a rushed fumble rather than a truly engaging quest for revenge. Yet despite these issues, it is a spectacle of violence and gore from a director who has been providing high-quality viscera for 100 films. Arrow compliments this with a disc that has just the right kind of extras that allow for multiple perspectives on the film and one that emphasises the visual artistry of Miike's work. If you are a fan of Miike, action, samurai films or any type of high-quality nonsense then this disc is one for you.