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Categories: Movie Reviews

Though packed to the rafters with strange magic and buckets of blood, Blade of the Immortal is a relatively tame affair for infamous director Takashi Miike and conventionally satisfying.

Takashi Miike’s 100th directing credit is less a greatest hits compilation and more a culmination of over 25 years spent honing skills. It’s also an absolute bloodsoaked blast. Blade of the Immortal starts furious and never lets up but its real strengths lie in carefully plotted story and Nobuyasu Kita’s stunning cinematography.

Japan is the star of the film, not just in terms of beautiful backdrops but in terms of an idiosyncratic culture. It’s easy to see why George Lucas took so much inspiration from Kurosawa’s samurai epics when he made Star Wars and that incomparable rhythm beats throughout Blade of the Immortal too.

In truth, no one person can lay claim to that aesthetic though. It is a uniquely Japanese structure and tone, endless death and body horror laced with comedy, and Blade of the Immortal is a uniquely Japanese film.

From the flurry of sword strokes in the film’s black and white opening to the struggle between shogunate era politics and the whims of gods who bestow magic worms from holy lamas, it’s pretty clear that Blade of the Immortal is not a film that you’re likely to find anywhere else and it’s grounded by its devotion to disciplines that exist beyond the boundaries of western filmmaking.

Characterisation is a large part of what makes the film work and, like everything else, it carries itself with a clear sense of purpose. This is no doubt a result of its origins (Blade of the Immortal is adapted from Hiroaki Samura’s popular manga series of the same name) but there’s something very akin to Japanese anime in Blade of the Immortal’s DNA beyond just the increasingly bizarre parade of memorably colourful characters with conflicting motivations.

Each character’s representation is, indeed, quite stereotypical, even to a western viewer with only a passing understanding of Japanese performance culture, but the adept flare and personality shown by each actor within that narrow frame is what makes the film feel consistently precise, well-measured and perhaps even masterful.

As the narrative grows from a simple revenge story to a fable of rediscovering purpose in life and then again to a saga of wills and ambition, you can’t help but marvel at just how expertly Miike not only moves from one to the other but crafts them, flawlessly.

While the fight choreography is undeniably terrific it, rightfully, never takes centre stage. You don’t need to see every blow land because Miike understands that what really matters is the people swinging the weapons, not the weapons themselves.

Takuya Kimura’s lead hero is a cartoon character, surely, right down to his unabashed video game ability to pull an arsenal of weapons from his clothing at any given moment and Miike’s ability to actually make you care about each of his many, many confrontations throughout the film (and feel tension in the climax) is a testament to just how good a job he really did.

Weird, wild and kind of wonderful; Blade of the Immortal may very well be a modern classic in the making and if you’re yearning to wash the taste of corporate Hollywood out of your mouth after yet another lacklustre summer then this might very well be the bonkers cocktail that you’re looking for.

Blade of the Immortal is out now in UK cinemas.

Mark Birrell

Mark is the editor of The Spread as well as a copywriter, and lifelong cinephile, who received his bachelors in Film and Comparative Literature from the University of London. You can follow him on Twitter @markwbirrell

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Posted on Dec 8, 2017

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