Blade of the Immortal
Stars: Takuya Kimura, Hana Sugisaki, Sôta Fukushi, Yoko Yamamoto
This may be his hundredth film (hundredth!) but there is nothing about Japanese director Takashi Miike’s supernatural martial arts adventure, adapted from the popular manga serial, which feels rote or slapdash. In a black-and-white prologue we observe master samurai swordsman Manji (Takuya Kimura) battling a group of bounty hunters. His younger sister is killed in the attack and he is gravely wounded. A mysterious nun Yaobikuni (Yôko Yamamoto) appears and tends to his wounds using bloodworms, miraculous insects that stick severed limbs and ripped flesh together, the process rendering Manji immortal. The story jumps forward (and into colour) as young woman Rin (also played by Sugisaki) witnesses her father, a Kendo master, along with all of his dojo pupils, slaughtered by an outlaw band led by Kagehisa Anotsu (Sôta Fukushi). The mysterious nun appears again, telling Rin to seek Manji’s help. The swordsman, still haunted by the death of his sister, and seeing a chance at redemption, accepts. What follows is series of beautifully-mounted and typically bloody duels involving a range of memorably vivid characters. There are some queasy laughs too in the grisly scenes of an agonized Manji’s flesh being kneaded together by the magical worms. The beautiful staging, disparate complex combatants, and densely populated fights, makes this an ideal companion piece to the director’s excellent 2010 picture 13 Assassins. Here’s to the next hundred.