Cinematic Releases: A Fate Worse Than Death: Blade of the Immortal (2017) - Reviewed

Iconic Japanese director Takashi Miike's 100th (!) film Blade of the Immortal (2017), isn't a masterpiece, but it's still head and shoulders above most other modern samurai films and it's a fine take on the manga source material. Hiroaki Samura's manga serial ran for almost twenty years and it's surprising that it took this long for it to get a live action adaptation. Miike isn't a stranger to adapting manga and his previous attempts have been mostly successful.

Blade of the Immortal revolves around Manji (Takuya Kimura), a samurai who has been cursed with immortality and cannot die. He becomes the bodyguard of a young girl named Rin (Hana Sugisaki) who comes to him for help with avenging the death of her parents. The film starts out rather straightforward (in black and white) and feels like a classic chanbara film. Once it transitions over to the main plot it becomes a modern interpretation of a samurai film with a pulpy grindhouse feel. Someone who is expecting a realistic period piece might be disappointed, but those who like their samurai films bloody and over-the-top will feel at home. I found the film to be a bit too long, and honestly Miike could have shaved off twenty minutes or so to streamline the story. The themes of the film are heavy at times, mostly dealing with the repercussions of living forever, regret, and the cycle of life and death. Everything is melodramatic but it fits the overall epic tone of the narrative.

The fight scenes are fantastic for the most part, as Manji has battles with many different types of characters who all have their own unique weapons and skill sets. Blood and limbs fly all over the place and due to the fact that Manji can't die, he is often turned into a pulpy dripping mess by the end of his altercations. The editing is choppier than most other samurai films I have seen, and I found myself wishing for more wide shots where I could see the action better. Blade of the Immortal is a gorgeous looking film with beautiful mist-covered natural scenery and bustling rural towns. Koji Endo's score is haunting as well and compliments the action perfectly.

Like many samurai films, Blade of the Immortal has a convoluted storyline with lots of political intrigue. With the runtime exceeding two hours, the film can feel like its dragging at times with characters often going into long monologues before and after they fight. It feels self-indulgent at times, but I appreciate the depth it added to the villains' motivations. Manji himself is an interesting character and he is prone to moments of sardonic humor that give him an interesting edge. It did feel a bit jarring at first but it grew on me by the end of the film.

Though this film isn't Miike's best work, it's still a solid genre piece and highly recommended for fans of his work or samurai film connoisseurs.

--Michelle Kisner