Film Review – Blade of the Immortal
Blade of the Immortal
Blade of the Immortal is an action-packed samurai film that gives the thrill of battle and enough complexity in its characters and concepts to keep you invested in more than just the awesome sword battles! Jumping right in, samurai Manji (Takuya Kimura) is being hunted for killing some men, and is desperate to protect his mentally unstable younger sister Machi (Hana Sugisaki). An old woman approaches him, taunting him about his life and he sees that his sister has run off and been captured by large group of men looking to kill him for the reward money. What takes place is a great battle that not only shows Manji’s skill but also how one man can really take on so many individuals and not get killed right away, get beat up a lot and scare others enough to stay away using what skill he has. But it is the old woman coming to him, putting blood worms in him, that heals his wounds and makes him immortal that is the real savior of it all. And then the movie starts in earnest.
Rin (also played by Hana Sugisaki) a young girl seeks out a bodyguard who cannot be killed to avenge the death of her father, a dojo teacher who rejected Anotsu Kagehisa (Sôta Fukushi). He is the leader of the Ittō-ryū, a group of swordsmen who reject the idea of fighting only in specialized forms and use whatever weapons are at hand. Manji sees the similarity in appearance between Rin and his sister, and readily agrees to be her bodyguard. But he has become jaded after so many years of life and is both protective of Rin and annoyed with her fairly quickly.
Manji faces off against members of the Ittō-ryū, usually one at a time, which could become tedious, yet each fighter has something that gives him that little distinction to make the fights more interesting, both in the way they fight and in explaining why they are fighting. Learning some of their backstory makes them each not just some anonymous fighter. It is not a lot of information or fully developed but it is enough to get us invested. Even our main villain Anotsu Kagehisa is not a random evil mad man; he has some good reasons for his beliefs even if he takes them to extremes. There are even people we are rooting for him to get revenge on even while we still want him to suffer for what he has done. Manji as a fighter has some interesting distinctions in that he is not always the best fighter, and that his immortality is now a defining aspect of his fighting style. He is lethally stabbed several times and loses limbs more often than expected. Has he become lazy in his fighting or are the other swordsmen actually better? Whatever the reason, it actually makes him appear more “normal,” and lets us relate to a man who has not aged in fifty years.
The one shortcoming is director Takashi Miike‘s choice of transitions between sections of the movie that can be a bit jarring as to where we are in the world and why it seems that so many swordsmen are in this place, but it moves quickly to fill us in and show us what this new fighter is about and how it changes how Manji must deal with each new problem. This is a minor problem to a director known for making intense action sequences and, while I have not seen any of his other films, this was a great showcase for how to make action scenes seem believable while also being just plain fun. In setting the stage for Japan at this time in history and the complexity of concepts of fighting, honor, and styles, we are shown why this is a serious issue in ways that avoid exposition dumps but flow naturally with the story. This all builds up to the finale that does not disappoint. While we can see with little difficulty where all these characters will end up we are still excited to see them fight it out.
This is a movie that promises great action and delivers, but in the process actually does more than that, providing a compelling enough story to take place in between the slicing and dicing. These are not deep characters but they are well-defined. We see what drives them and in a movie where we are here to see people attack each other, it is a welcome change that these characters’ motivations are essential to the plot. And, of course, it is again worth stating, the fighting is top notch and will make you feel the pain while also letting you get lost in the fun of the action.