“I’m Paul Barlow, and this is my daughter Jo.”

“Malone.”

“You got a first name?”

“Yeah.”

Blade of the Immortal

BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL is a 2017 samurai epic from director Takashi Miike. It’s his 100th film! Can you believe that shit? I haven’t gotten into his trademark pervert madman vibe in movies like ICHI THE KILLER, but nothing I’ve seen by him has been a slapdash Fred Olen Ray type affair. There is real effort and craft involved, and he’s made a few excellent samurai films. Instead of remaking an old school chanbara as with 13 ASSASSINS and HARA-KIRI: DEATH OF A SAMURAI this one is adapting a manga that ran for about twenty years, so it’s less classically structured, more unwieldy, with supernatural elements and outrageous imagery (crazy face paint, strange weapons, goofy anime hair).

This aesthetic looks particularly cool in the stark black and white of the prologue, where we learn the bloody, convoluted origins of the titleistical immortal. As a young samurai, Manji (Takuya Kimura, Howl in HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE) was tricked into assassinating a whistleblower. He thought it would right things to kill the corrupt officials behind the scheme, but one was his little sister Machi (Hana Sugisaki, Mary in MARY AND THE WITCH’S FLOWER)’s husband, and the grief drove her insane.

He tried to take care of her, but he failed. A giant gang of bounty hunters kidnap her to lure Manji in, then kill her right in front of him. His response is so over-the-top it earns him the nickname “Hundred Killer,” which still follows him around fifty years later, when he’s still young and alive thanks to a weird old lady (Yoko Yamamoto, MASSACRE GUN) who infected him with “sacred bloodworms” that heal his wounds and even reattach his severed limbs. Technically it’s a curse or a disease, but it’s a strong advantage for a swordfighter.

So most of the characters in the movie weren’t even born when that shit happened. For example there’s Kagehisa Anotsu (Sota Fukushi, guy from Kamen Rider movies and TV shows), an arrogant young warrior who has been traveling the country destroying every dojo and forcing them to follow his dirty style of fighting. Also Rin Asano (Sugisaki again), a little girl who watches her family get killed in one such dojo invasion and wants revenge. The old crone advises her to find the immortal in town and hire him as a bodyguard. He’s reluctant and acts weird and trickstery about it but of course she looks exactly like his little sister and he’s a little crazy and feels alot guilty about what happened to her so he can’t turn the girl down.

Manji’s robe has a half white, half black, yin-yang type design, and he’s kind of a balance between heroic and wicked. He immediately scoffs at Rin for assuming she’s the good one and the people she wants to kill are evil. She replies that she doesn’t care whether it’s good or evil, she just wants them to die. Fair.

Everyone always thinks they’re the good guy. Often times they’re not. This is the biggest theme I noticed, adding weight to the mythological tales of bloodshed. Those who carry blades always think they have a great reason to kill somebody and then they always find out new information. After they’ve been on the road together for some time Manji tells Rin about his life. We thought we already knew his backstory from that black and white prologue, but now he gives us more context that makes it murkier. It seems like every time he mentions killing somebody it’s followed by a “but…” and a dramatic pause before he tells us what he later found out that made the killing not so righteous. (Everyone I know has a big “but…”. Let’s talk about your big “but…”).

When Rin finally comes face to face with her hated foe Kagehisa he tells her his backstory, the injustice he was avenging that led to killing her family, and all the sudden she thinks he has a pretty good point and she’s hesitant about killing him. She doesn’t know what the fuck to do. This even leads to a glorious third act battle (SPOILER for glorious third act battle) with our immortal bodyguard, our little girl and our heinous villain all fighting together against the army, the government, The Man. A thrilling turn of events.

But Kagehisa represents a change in the samurai code, a push for more vicious fighting, and considering what we have learned about “but…”s, this is a problem. It will lead to more misunderstandings, more mistakes, more tragedies that must be avenged, more fuel for the perpetual engine of killing.

An odd cultural thing about this movie is that much of the cast are pop stars. It was a disappointment at the Japanese box office, and screenwriter Tetsuya Oishi (DEATH NOTE) thought it might’ve been because the guy who plays Manji’s boy band had broken up. Can you imagine an American movie starring a bunch of teen stars fuckin massacring the shit out of each other, and nobody thinks it’s weird? The world is an interesting place.

I read the wikipedia on the manga, and it sounds like at least plotwise the movie is very faithful. A weird thing though is the basic premise of the original story: he has to kill 1,000 evil souls to become mortal again. Somehow I didn’t catch that in the movie. Instead he seems to brood about his inability to die, and then to worry when a poison that affects the bloodworms seems to change that. He wants to finish helping his symbolic little sister before he’s done. But the 1,000 souls thing must be in there, I must’ve missed it, because the tagline on the Blu-Ray cover is “HE WILL TAKE 1,000 LIVES TO PROTECT ONE” and then there are hashmarks all over the background. (Then again, becoming mortal again wouldn’t protect her life. Hmmm…)

Anyway they must’ve had to encapsulate alot. The only part that felt a little rushed to me was when they team up with some bounty hunters called the Mugai-ryu and those guys quickly turn against him. But it works. They’re all trying to ambush somebody they think is Kagehisa in disguise, but it turns out to be a prostitute hired as a decoy, and this guy Shira (Hayato Ichihara, JU-ON 2) tries to rape her. Rin intervenes, so he just starts punching the little girl. It’s fucked up! That is a bad person.

It reminds me of AZUMI, another movie with the types of stories of honor and revenge that I love from samurai stories but with hugely exaggerated battles thanks to its manga origins. A world where one person can take on a hundred while dreaming of a world where they don’t have to take on any.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 13th, 2018 at 11:57 am and is filed under Action, Comic strips/Super heroes, Martial Arts, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

31 Responses to “Blade of the Immortal”

  1. Looking forward to this one. I enjoyed the comic back in the ’90s. Miike is hit and miss with me but when I’m on his wavelength, it’s a good time.

    Only reason I haven’t seen this is because I was tipped off it’ll be on Hulu this Thursday or Friday.

  2. This has quickly become one of my favourites. I’ve always had a thing for samourai movies, and it scores high on story, visuals and action. It’s not as dark as Miike’s previous two films in the genre, but maybe even more entertaining.

  3. I think Audition is literally the only Miike movie I have ever seen.

  4. I went through a Miike phase. I’m rarely in that mood anymore but I still have a stack of his movies a foot tall from my days going to the porn store to buy Asian imports every day at lunch. I don’t think I’ve ever watched any of them twice, but I still watch his major releases. This one sounds pretty entertaining.

    Favorite Miike deep cut? I think I’m gonna go with DEADLY OUTLAW REKKA. The version I bought was called VIOLENT FIRE and I still think that’s a way cooler title. I even ordered an import of the soundtrack, which is the entirety of a Japanese prog rock album from 1971 by Flower Traveling Band. Major riffage on that thing.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gq5XhOgyGnI

  5. I really enjoyed this one. I am not familiar with the source material, but this films feels like Miike’s

  6. I am not familiar with the source material, but this film feels like Miike’s version oF LOGAN.

  7. Mr Majestyk; I hate to say it, but this is one movie where you can’t get away from the photography and the costumes – but there’s action and movement enough for a dozen “regular” samurai Movies, so I guess we don’t have to talk about it.

  8. Liked this a lot. Definitely in the upper tier of Miike movies and heaps better than his other recent manga / anime adaptations.

  9. For the record: I don’t DISLIKE costumes or photography. They make a movie better. They just don’t ma

  10. For the record: I don’t DISLIKE costumes or photography. They’re important parts of the recipe. But they don’t make a movie good. All they can do is make a good movie better.

  11. I heard you the first time!

  12. For more insight into where I’m coming from, check out my recent comment at the end of the REVENANT review.

    The Revenant

    Right now THE REVENANT (from executive producer Brett Ratner) is being marketed as an Important Awards Contender type movie. It's the year's most Oscar-nominated film and the winner of the Golden Globe for Best Picture - Drama, so until THE BIG SHORT won the Producer's Guild award the other day it seemed like the frontrunner for the coveted title of Answer To Trivia Question About Which Lesser Movie Got Best Picture Instead Of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. It's the latest from Alejandro G. Iñárritu, the least fun of the Three Amigos, but the one who got best picture, director and

  13. Relax, I’m messing with you. I’ve been around these parts for some years now, I know where you’re coming from. Just as I know you’re gonna like this movie.

  14. I know you’re just messing with me, and I’m pretty sure I’ll like BLADE OF THE EYE-ROLLING MANGA HORSESHIT too. I was just felt that THE REVENING summed up my thoughts on the matter pretty succinctly and felt like sharing. Also I’d like to hear what people think of it a couple years removed from the hype. I don’t think it holds up. Anybody else want to weigh in?

  15. I’ve always liked the Richard Harris version better. But I’ve been thinking about rewatching Leo and the bear for some time now, so I’ll probably do it over the weekend.

  16. I’d actually pretty much agree with your take on The Revenant. I saw it again on hbo or something not long ago. I respect it and I even like watching it, but it doesn’t stay with me afterwards. The only stuff that even comes close is Hardy’s enjoyably weaselly performance and the camerawork and direction. I remember how it *feels* (cold and lonely) more than anything specific about it.

    On the topic of favorite deep-cut Miike flicks, though, I’ve got a long-time fondness for his weirdo murder-hotel musical HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS, which my parents bought me on dvd years ago for my 21st birthday (along with a copy of NAKED LUNCH- weird double feature, but my folks definitely understood my tastes at that age). I’d never seen anything like it before and I’ve always tried to seek his stuff out since then.

  17. since you ask, Majestyk, I think The Revenant holds up like a motherfucker. I am really not into Inarritu’s early Hollywood films (particularly Babel and .. however many grams it was.. let’s say 137) but I am a big nerd for Westerns, and as a deconstructionist western, The Revenant is nothing short of exhilarating. I think it seeks to implicate the delusion at the heart of white “enlightenment” in a way i’ve never seen a western do before.

    Basically: to watch the film is to watch 3 hours of Leo D getting punished by nature/the Earth over and over again for the sin of thinking he is special because he has transcended nature’s inherent violence. The movie ends when he learns his lesson: namely, “by confusing who you think you are with you really are, you have fucked up.” I think it can be read as a bold reminder of the limited value of individual experience in an era of culturally-mandated solipsism. Just because Glass has a kid with a Native woman (and, yes, loves him/her) doesn’t do anything to free him from the legacy of violence that let him have that kid with that Native woman. In fact, he probably does more damage for acting like his feelings invalidate that legacy. You can tell by his son’s behavior and the way the rest of the world
    treats him that Glass has done a piss poor job of raising him with any understanding of how to be a part of either community Glass considers himself to be an effortless straddler of the line between; ironically, that’s led to the kid’s constant hyper-awareness of those divisions and the simmering tensions that are always there on either side. Well before the end of the film, i think Glass has become the literal living dead, cursed to wander the earth for the rest of time as a keeper of the unbearable cosmic truths we’ve watched the Earth beat into him. So what was marketed as the story of a badass dude whose heroic abilities allow him to survive the elements against all odds is actually the story of a garden-variety human who survives punishment after punishment only because he literally cannot die. I’m pretty into it.

    If that all sounds like a very personal take on the film though, the (slightly more objective) argument could be made that its oddly distanced mood comes not from the nature-photography aspect of the way it’s shot, but from Inarritu feeling more kinship with the forces of biological and geological turmoil that are in opposition to Glass than he does to Glass himself. In a movie that spends so much time with just one character — a character whose survival we would normally be strongly and unambiguously encouraged to root for — those sympathies make for some intriguingly chilly dynamics that are complimented by the setting and the score.

    and speaking of the score— if you’re into Flower Travelling Band, the composer for The Revenant was a founding member of Yellow Magic Orchestra!

  18. RE: Miike. I kinda have a soft spot for his YATTERMAN adaptation. It’s kinda like Altman’s POPEYE: technically nothing works but it all comes together to make a movie I like anyway. POPEYE is way better but there is some ‘unique’ things in YATTERMAN. One it’s based on a children’s cartoon from the ’70s and the movie can’t make up it’s mind if it wants to be a children’s movie or an adult one (not like SCOOBY DOO though, this one straight up has two robots fucking at one point) and also he clearly wants to make a movie about the bad guys because they are the real stars and the heroes aren’t in it to much and when they are the movie screeches to a halt and is painful to watch, also it is WAY too long. Yet there are so many individual things that are great: The opening, this random musical number/montage, anytime the bad guys are getting ‘reviewed’ by their boss, etc.

    I wish I could say more nice things about his PHOENIX WRIGHT movie but for a movie with so many weird visuals and weird goings-ons, it sure is dull.

    As for his non-based on a cartoon/comic/video game work I like the aforementioned HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS.
    —–
    As for THE REVENANT if you’re not going back to that thread here is what I posted: I wasn’t wild about it when it came out in theaters. Innaritu is one those guys whose snobbishness rubs me really wrong. That’s not fair to the movies I don’t think though. I think it was you, Mr. M, you said that Innaritu probably only watched like one western and decided he was going to make the genre his bitch because he’s so awesome *paraphrasing you*. I tried re-watching this one and just couldn’t. Snobs are of course gonna love it because it is so well-made, if we’re just talking about the craft of filmmaking, this one is hard to beat. If we’re talking about movies that emotionally connect, this one (and all of Innaritu’s movies) is extremely easy to beat. I once had a snobbier guy who hated MAD MAX FURY ROAD because it was ‘just’ one long action scene and loved this one (I bring FURY ROAD up because this one is similarly going for a whole ‘it’s an experience and we’re telling the story via action and movement rather than traditional narrative’). I asked them to describe the characters outside of saying Leo is angry and Hardy is an asshole and they couldn’t do it. I then proceeded to explain like five or so FURY ROAD characters and they accused me of projecting. Point is: This is one of those ‘genre’ movies that snobs love: It’s technically a genre movie but it removes what makes those genre movies work/fun to watch/read so now it’s art and lowly trash. Also it tells a story that’s been told a billion times before but they don’t consume any of said genre so it’s all new to them and they praise ‘the artist’ who made this boring one as re-defining it unlike all those trash-mongers who’ve been making them for years/decades. Sometimes that works (CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON) most of the time it’s not my cup though (this one )

    -Side discussion: Critics/Snobs also love it when a genre director starts making ‘regular’ movies. I remember when there was legit Oscar buzz for Sam Raimi RE: A SIMPLE PLAN and so many critics where praising him for ‘growing up finally.’* Same exact comments were made for Tim Burton RE: BIG FISH. ‘Thank god you stopped making those interesting and unique movies that only you would make! Now you can make the same exact movie that everyone else makes! Coincidentally those are the exact movies I want to watch!’
    *Paraphrase our then local critic on Raimi RE: A SIMPLE PLAN ‘He finally stopped making those lowly horror pictures with the ‘look at me, look at me’ camera movements’

  19. lol I think i just inadvertently proved GeoffreyJar correct about snobs. whoops. in my defense, i love old/random/low-budget genre stuff way more than i do Oscar bait. i just thought Revenant was the rare piece of expensive, epic filmmaking that was a critique of colonialism, riveting from minute to minute, and aesthetically beautiful most if not all of the time. that doesn’t mean that i think its better than, I dunno, High Plains Drifter or My Darling Clementine or something, but it’d still be a shame to skip Revenant because it seems like one of those prestige genre-for-snobs genre

  20. lol I think i just inadvertently proved GeoffreyJar correct about snobs. whoops. in my defense, i love old/random/low-budget genre stuff way more than i do Oscar bait. i just thought Revenant was the rare piece of expensive, epic filmmaking that was a critique of colonialism, riveting from minute to minute, and aesthetically beautiful most if not all of the time. that doesn’t mean that i think its better than, I dunno, High Plains Drifter or My Darling Clementine or something, but it’d still be a shame to skip Revenant because it seems like one of those prestige genre-for-snobs movies. like, i feel like the fact that it’s legitimately got a lot going on under the hood gives it more in common with less-acclaimed or less-prestigey westerns, not less.

  21. (sorry for the double post)

  22. Just to be sure… I wasn’t targeting you in you in my post!

  23. Majestyk: Thank you for the Flower Travellin’ Band link. This shit is amazing!

  24. I like both movies, but I think it says a lot that they had to invent an ending in Leo’s movie that’s not in Richard’s – or in real life. But it’s a big difference between the 70’s and now, that’s for sure.

  25. I saw Revenant for the first time recently and it’s a really fucking good movie. I can see why people might not love it but I don’t think anyone could call it a bad movie.

    I tried watching YAKUZA APOCALYPSE recently and it’s a really fucking terrible movie. But I absolutely love 13 ASSASSINS so will give this one a shot if it pops up on Netflix but will not go out of my way to see it.

  26. oh i knew you weren’t targeting me, i just thought it was funny that i wrote a long, pseudo intellectual read of the Revenant at the same time that you wrote an equally long takedown of the tendency of snobs to make long, pseudo intellectual reads of movies like the Revenant.

  27. one last thought about the ending, since pegsman brought it up— i feel like the way Leo looks into the camera in the last shot is Inarritu’s deliberate acknowledgement that this movie’s audience will be full of genre-dabbling awards-season snobs, and Leo’s searching glare is meant to remind them that they are just as guilty of his crimes of self-exemption.

  28. LOL – just checked the Revenant thread and I guess I did not enjoy that movie nearly as much as I remember. I reckon the good parts just stuck with me more than the boring parts.

  29. I liked BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL quite a bit, but to me it really did feel like a 98,234 episode manga painfully squished into the shape of a feature film. I always got the impression that I should be finding the rotating cast of colourful side-characters exciting because I recognize them from the source material. This must be how non-comics people feel about Marvel movies. They are still introducing major characters two-thirds into the film and so the subsequent heel turns and twists come out of nowhere and feel completely meaningless. Great fights, though.

  30. Thank you. The movie is great. Hope to have more good movies.

  31. I revisited Miikes VISITOR Q a few months ago and oh my god this was some messed up stuff (which i liked).

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