Out For Blood
♦ Tripwire’s contributing writer DOMINIC WELLS takes a look at Takashi Miike’s adaptation of renowned manga series Blade of The Immortal, out in UK cinemas from 8 December…
Blade Of The Immortal
Director: Takashi Miike
Stars: Takuya Kimura, Hana Sugisaki, Sota Fukushi
Takashi Miike has directed some of the strangest and most violent films to come out of Japan (which is really saying something), so for his 100th film you’d expect him to pull out all the stops. Blade of the Immortal does not disappoint.
Miike nails his colours bloodily to the mast from the get-go, splashing the opening credits in claret. Before long our Ronin samurai hero, Manji (Takuya Kimura), is squaring up to 50 armed thugs who stand between him and his innocent little sister.
Fifty to one. It’s hardly a fair fight – those thugs stand no chance, especially when the Boss Baddie gratuitously kills Manji’s sister and unleashes a roaring rampage of revenge. Hack, slash, slice; decapitate, disembowel, eviscerate; hack, slash, slice some more. At length only the Boss Baddie left.
Manji has lost an eye and an arm. His torso is pierced with arrows. Yet the Boss Baddie’s complacency is misplaced. He soon joins the corpses of his comrades on the blood-soaked soil.
Utterly spent, Manji lies on his back, waiting to rejoin his sister in the afterlife. Until a mysterious old crone appears bearing bloodworms culled from the Dalai Llama, which heal all wounds and make the host immortal…
All this and we’re only 15 minutes in. Things get far weirder – and bloodier – after that.
Miike keeps the plot churning at a fair old pace. After all, the source manga screenwriter Tetsuya Oishi is drawing on was serialised over a period of 19 years (it’s published in English by Dark Horse comics). There’s a long line-up of baddies, each with unique weaponry and fighting style; a scene in which the limbless torso of an immortal is pinned to a tree, still talking; and a climactic battle featuring 300 warriors which took two weeks to film.
Plentiful though the highly choreographed violence is, Miike also takes time out with his main characters. Manji falls in with a young girl (Hana Sugisaki, superb) who reminds him of his sister. Initially reluctant to help, he ends up acting as her bodyguard. The relationship is reminiscent of Leon, though Miike avoids the transgressive romantic undertones of Besson’s film by having them call each other brother and sister.
Another influence that springs to mind is Kill Bill, especially when Hyakurin appears in a violet dress split high up the thigh, wielding a scythe on a chain. But then Tarantino borrowed extensively from past films, and Kurosawa’s samurai movies were in turn influenced by John Ford’s Westerns, so if Miike adopts a bit of Tarantino’s pop-cultural cred he is merely continuing a long line of succession.
But there is one element above all that lifts Blade of the Immortal beyond a routine if stylish samurai slasher: the script’s moral ambiguity. The nobility of revenge is never accepted as a given, as in most samurai films, but continually called into question. The leader of the baddies (played by the ethereally beautiful Sota Fukushi, who looks like a manga character given flesh) turns out to have motives no less sound than the supposed good guys. And the fighting, though always inventively staged, is nasty, brutal and at length wearying, with warriors slipping and sliding on the blood of the fallen. There is no point at which you want to stand up and cheer as another poor soul is gorily despatched.
A hundred films in, Miike seems at the top of his game. Visual and visceral, bloody and strange (and just bloody strange), Blade of the Immortal is a must-see for those who love a stylish samurai flick – and who possess a strong stomach.
Blade of The Immortal is out now in the US and in UK cinemas from 8 December