Second Sight: Blade of the Immortal - Takashi Miike's 100th Film

Celebrated and controversial auteur director Takashi Miike delivers his 100th feature film, Blade of the Immortal.  Known for floating between genres and outside the constraints of anything close to resembling a wheelhouse, Miike has produced films that shock, repulse, and delight in equal portions.  His 2010 samurai epic 13 Assassins was a masterclass on fight choreography, editing, and composition, presenting a forty plus minute sequence of swordplay that remains calm and collected throughout, despite an overwhelming amount of carnage.  In his latest entry, Miike recaptures some of the same mass combat glory, adapting a popular manga comic for the big screen.  

Manji is a cursed samurai, who cannot be killed. He is conscripted by a young girl, Rin, to assist her with killing the men who murdered her father.  Tetsuya Oishi's script draws from a wealth of source material to present a stripped down (yet overlong) version of Manji and Rin's odyssey of blood.  Miike's understanding of the comic is essential to the presentation.  While period costuming and elegant composition evoke an archaic atmosphere, outlandish weaponry and over the top violence ensure that everything remains in the realm of near impossibility.  Compositions are drawn directly from the page, ultimately constructing a furious action showcase that is enshrined among an endless forest of odd ruminations and posturing.  While this could be interpreted as a weakness, it is these oddities that enhance the comic book ambiance, playing to Miike's strengths as a director.   

Takuya Kimura gives an excellent performance as the unstoppable hero.  His interactions with Hana Sugisaki (as Rin) are unexpectedly hilarious and yet gravely somber, a perfect mixture that is essential for a “last gunslinger” story.  Shane, Logan, and Unforgiven are prime examples of the kind of mindset Blade of the Immortal shoots for, however, unlike its predecessors, it actually has fun with the material.  While there is darkness throughout and some rather vile antagonists, the core relationship between the leads and the outright insanity of the combat allows the film to teeter on the absurd, without plunging into the depths of satire.  This is a wild ride from start to finish that delivers expected Miike trademarks along with a beautiful sense of freedom that lingers on every frame.  It is impossible to not compare this with 13 Assassins, one of Miike's greatest accomplishments.  While Blade doesn't necessarily eclipse the latter, it is evident in virtually every combat sequence that Blade of the Immortal would not exist with Miike's experiences from Assassins, especially with respect to Nobuyasu Kita’s quicksilver cinematography and Kenji Yamashita’s conservative editing.

Available now for digital rental, Blade of the Immortal is an outstanding action experience.  2017 has been a landmark year for action pictures, with films such as The Villainess, Atomic Blonde, and John Wick outpacing big budget tentpoles in both critical reception and longevity.  Blade of the Immortal is a smaller affair; an infinitely violent interpretation of the classic "one last mission" trope.  What it lacks in originality, it more than makes up for with its incessant brutality, pitch black gallows humor, and Takashi Miike's unmistakable charm. 

-- Kyle Jonathan