Legendary Japanese director Takashi Miike may not quite be a household name, but there’s a good chance you’ve heard of at least one of his incredible works. This is the man who has brought us such unforgettable projects as the chilling “Audition,” the bizarre “Ichi the Killer,” and the thrilling “13 Assassins,” perhaps his very best film to date. Now Miike returns to the samurai genre with “Blade of the Immortal,” based on the manga by Hiroaki Samura, a project that is being touted as his 100th film. After a whopping 99 films, does the legend still have it in him to deliver yet another work that will delight his many fans?
The film opens with a swordsman, Manji (Takuya Kimura), on the run after killing his master and his master’s bodyguards. Unfortunately, one of the bodyguards also happened to be his sister’s husband, causing his sister to go crazy from grief. When she is captured by a group of swordsmen looking to collect the reward on Manji’s head, he is forced to disarm himself. Sadly, the men still murder his sister, causing Manji to kill every single one of them. After the fight, Manji comes close to death from his wounds, only to be saved by an old nun who grants him immortality by infusing bloodworms into his body.
50 years later, Manji is approached by a young girl, Rin Asano (Hana Sugisaki), who wants his help to avenge the murder of her father at the hands of Anotsu Kagehisa (Sota Fukushi). At first, Manji refuses to help, but after Rin is attacked by one of Kagehisa’s men, he relents and joins her on the quest. Along the way, Manji meets many difficult enemies, including one that has the same “condition,” but his perseverance eventually leads to an all-out epic battle that will finally give Rin her long-awaited chance to attain revenge for her father’s murder.
If there’s one thing that Miike proved with the marvelous “13 Assassins,” it’s that he knows how to make a damn good samurai flick, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that “Blade of the Immortal” ends up having exactly what any fan of the genre would want out of such a film. For starters, it’s beautifully made, utilizing gorgeous period costumes, production design, props, cinematography, and, of course, Miike’s skilled direction to deliver a film that achieves a grand mix of drama and action. Indeed, when it comes to the look and design of the film, there’s simply not a fault to be found.
Taking a look at the narrative side of the equation, we find a story that is rather compelling, though it’s not without its issues. The main problem that pops up is that the narrative does go a little lax at times during the film, mainly thanks to its elongated runtime of 141 minutes. In retrospect, there didn’t really seem to be any reason that the film needed to be this long, especially since there were portions that felt as though they slowed it down a little too much, but in the overall scheme of things, it’s a minor complaint that is more than made up for by its stronger elements.
The film’s strongest element, and perhaps the reason most samurai fans will be seeking the film out, is its stunning battle sequences. Even at the very beginning of the film, we are treated to a wild and thrilling sequence in which Manji manages to cut down a large group of swordsmen, giving us a fair taste of what we are to experience throughout Miike’s epic. From here, we are given several exciting sequences in which Manji goes one-on-one with some of Kagehisa’s henchmen, providing several more thrills as our pair of heroes go about their quest. However, these all pale in comparison to what we are treated to at the film’s conclusion, where we witness Manji and co. go up against 300 warriors in an insanely intense battle that makes the few lags in the storyline worth it. Simply put, this battle is everything that fans of the genre could have hoped for, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint.
When it comes right to it, Miike has crafted another fantastic samurai epic, and while it may not be on quite the same level as “13 Assassins,” it’s still an incredible, thrilling, and downright fun adventure that will have you rooting for the heroes every step of the way. 100 films in, and it doesn’t seem like Miike is showing any signs of slowing down. If anything, “Blade of the Immortal” shows that he hasn’t lost his edge in the slightest, so here’s hoping he keeps on delivering more great films in the future to the further delight of his legions of fans.
“Blade of the Immortal” comes to Blu-ray in a stunning 2.39:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of outstanding quality. The image is beautifully sharp throughout the entire presentation, which does a great job of highlighting the film’s incredible production design, costumes, cinematography, and, of course, the marvelous fight sequences. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is equally impressive, giving you all of the dialogue, score, and sound effects in excellent quality. Overall, Miike’s latest opus has been given fantastic treatment, which will surely please his fans, and fans of samurai flicks in general.
Manji vs. 300 (18 Minutes): A fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the incredible climactic battle sequence.
Cast Interviews (56 Minutes): Another great featurette that goes behind the scenes with the cast, exploring the characters played by Hana Sugisaki, Sota Fukushi, Hayato Ichihara, Erika Toda, Kazuki Kitamura, and more.
Takuya Kimura Interview (29 Minutes): A featurette that explores the character of Manji, featuring lots of behind the scenes footage and interviews with the cast and crew.
Boasting stunning action sequences, along with gorgeous direction, cinematography, production design, and costumes, Takashi Miike’s “Blade of the Immortal” is a thrilling and highly-entertaining samurai adventure that will delight fans of the director’s work, as well as fans of the genre in general. You may recall that the film landed at #8 on my top ten list of 2017, but unfortunately at the time, not many people had gotten to see the film due to its extremely limited release (it played in a maximum of 30 theaters across the country). Now that the film is coming to Blu-ray, hopefully the public will seek it out and give it the audience it truly deserves.