The only glimmer of surprise in Blade of the Immortal is the weapons
Metro’s spotlight on Takashi Miike continues with this year’s Blade of the Immortal, which starts where most samurai movies would end. In shogun-era Japan, Manji (Takuya Kimura), confronted by a horde of warriors—their sneering leader having just cut down Manji’s sister—manages to flash, gash, and slash his way through them all, then staggers and falls, ready to die of his wounds. But an 800-year-old nun, whom he met earlier, reappears to put “bloodworms” into him, making him immortal. A half-century later, he’s enlisted by a girl, Rin (Hana Sugisaki), seeking to avenge her father, killed by Kagehisa Anotsu (Sota Fukishi) and his Ittō-ryū acolytes, destroying dojos around Edo (Tokyo).
It’s superhero-ish stuff—after all, Blade of the Immortal’s based on a long-running manga that’s been adapted as an anime feature. This live-action version is, like many of its Hollywood comic book-blockbuster counterparts, so self-serious that it’s rather silly (there’s somehow peroxide-blonde hair in shogun-era Japan; no one thinks of just incinerating the immortal already; etc.). The only glints of surprise come with each new weapon (shurikens, two-pronged blades, kabutowari, and more) in yet another showdown. The livid-scarred, glaring Manji often resembles a pincushion crossed with a voodoo doll or Monty Python’s Black Knight, still eager to fight on even though his limbs have been hacked off.
The gender-dynamics are pathetically retrograde, especially when the first female fighter’s unable to finish off Manji because she’s suddenly overcome by her emotions, seized with guilt and regret. This is a film interesting mostly in long-shot: its painterly backdrops, and its gothic opera-ness with anguish, pain, even poison amid moonlight, shadows, even quicksand; one masked foe carries the severed heads of his victims atop his shoulders. And there’s its extreme re-viewing of the samurai flick. Japan’s famous genre staggers its way, undead, towards the zombie or vampire movie here. The samurai seem closer to a sado-masochistic death-cult than ever. The sound of gurgling and glugging on one’s own blood is the movie’s chorus; Manji only fights on because vengeful Rin reminds him of his slain sister. The point of it all? Nothing more than a flash of steel in the darkness, it seems.
Thu., Dec. 7, 10 and 11
Blade of the Immortal
Directed by Takashi Miike
Dec 7, 10, 11