November 8, 2017

Movie Review: Blade of the Immortal (2017)

There are some movies that don’t grab me on the surface. There are times that I see a title and it just doesn’t sound like it would be that interesting to me. This is generally very early on, usually before I know who made it, starred in it, and even before I see a trailer. I doesn’t mean I won’t see it or won’t like it, just that i am not sure I would go out of my way to find out anything about it. Of course, some movies do not like being ignored like that, as it turns out, Blade of the Immortal is one those that refuses to be ignored. I was at the theater to see a 35mm screening of the crazy Hausu and one of the pre show trailers was, you guessed it, Blade of the Immortal. The trailer told me everything I needed to know and it was now on my must see list.

Blade of the Immortal was adapted by the manga from Hiroaki Samura and has previously been adapted to an anime back in 2008. I did not know this going in, which is probably a good thing as I did not have any of that potential baggage weighing on my expectations. This adaptation was written by Tetsuya Oishi, who also penned the two live action Death Note adaptations (not the recent US adaptation). Now the name that really caught my attention was Takashi Miike, and this is his 100th film. Miike is clearly a very prolific director and I have only seen a handful of his features, but he is a fascinating vision, always with one foot in the absurd and the other in the mainstream, deftly crossing lines. His best known films would probably by Audition, Ichii the Killer, and 13 Assassins. Believe me, when he is on his game, he is not to be missed. With Blade of the Immortal, he is most definitely on his game.

This film feels a bit like True Grit on the surface, but it is interesting how, even days after I have seen it, characters are still revealing themselves. It is like every character truly has their own narrative, whether it is all played out on screen or not, each character sees himself as the hero of their story. At the same time, all of them are crossing lines, from the establishment to the fringe, from the outside to the establishment. The characters are all pretty fascinating. That is what makes this movie great, but what makes it entertaining is when you strip away the extraneous and focus on the central tale, which is one of revenge and redemption. A simple theme, but one that is executed wonderfully.

At the center of the story is Manji (Takuya Kimura), a man who was played for a puppet by the corrupt establishment, making a costly and personal mistake. A mistake that he goes against tradition and tries to stand up for. This causes further loss and the curse of immortality, forced to live with what he had done and what he had failed to do. Then, years later, a young girl, Rin (Hana Sugisaki), has her father murdered in front of her. Vowing revenge, she seeks the samurai who cannot be killed to aid in her path of vengeance. He doesn’t want to be bothered, but then he is reminded of his sister and takes to her like an older brother and aids on her quest of vengeance.

Blade of the Immortal, is a bloody, violent affair, with a strong emotional core. I loved watching the relationship develop between Manji and Rin. It goes through phases as the two become family, going from the initial begrudging partnership, to genuinely caring about the well being of the other. Each step bringing them closer to their goal, her thirst for vengeance and his need for redemption.

Clocking in at over two hours and twenty minutes, it is not a short movie, but it is one that moves at a brisk clip. It is masterfully paced giving us plenty a bloody action with some unique swordsman, but it also gives us quieter moments of introspection to really get to know the characters. It is a fine line of plot, character, and over the top action that Miike walks. He makes it work, he makes us care about the characters, he makes actually have interest in the bad guys. The movie has time to let us get to know the players involved, letting this actually be a full world and not just set to hang the revenge plot on.

Will Blade of the Immortal be for everyone? Of course not, but what movie is? I was very happy to find that it was a movie for me. I am glad it was movie a forceful will of its own that wanted me to see it. The movie was very Miike, a master craftsman with a vision than runs the gamut from overly excessive, to quiet and introspective, a vision that runs the underground just as it does the respectable mainstream. This combines both worlds in a way that does not lean too far either way, but goes as far as it needs to tell the story that Miike wants to tell.

Blade of the Immortal is a movie worth seeing, it is invigorating and has a lot of heart. It is a movie that is more than a revenge epic or a tale of personal redemption. It is those, but it transcends and paints a picture of a different world, It is a world of heroes and villains, but it is also very fluid where the heroes and villains don’t always stay on their side of the line. Blade of the Immortal is a world of grays and we are better for it.

Highly Recommended.

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