Blade of the Immortal: Japanese Genre King Puts Zombie on Overdrive

By Liam Lacey

(RATING: B+)

The 100th film in about a quarter century by Japanese genre king Takashi Miike is, by his own account, something of a “mash-up” of much of his previous work. Given that his work is largely about mashing things up, the 56-year-old director is right in his wheelhouse.

 Takuya Kimura in Blade of the Immortal.

Takuya Kimura in Blade of the Immortal.

Adapted by Tetsuya Oishi (Death Note) from Hiroaki Samura’s long-running manga series, Blade of the Immortal features a samurai fighter named Manji (played by Japanese pop idol Takuya Kimura). His origin story is revealed in a 12-minute black-and-white introduction where Manji, after slaughtering 100 enemies, is covered in wounds which are magically healed by a mysterious hooded 800-year-old nun, Yaobikuni (Yoko Yamamoto). She does this by filling his body with “blood worms” that knit together his wounds and re-attach his severed limbs.

After 50 years of brooding about this in his hut, Manji is pulled back into action when an adolescent girl named Rin (Hana Sugisaki), on the advice of the same mystery nun, enlists him to wreak revenge on her family’s killer, the cold-blooded androgynous leader of the Ikki-ryu sword-fighting school, Kagehisa Anotsu (Sota Fukushi). Although Manji is ill at ease around children, the girl’s resemblance to his dead sister (also played by Sugisaki) compels him to go along with her. What follows is a series of battles, mostly one-on-one with colourful rivals: an arrogant monk, a prostitute (who feels remorseful after her violent sprees) and eventually, an army of enemies. (Rin helps, too).

To some degree, the difference between one fight scene and another is the difference between settings on a blender — chop, pulverize or liquefy — but each of Miike’s sequences are precisely and energetically choreographed in a way that puts Hollywood super-hero action sequences to shame. Even for Miiki, the level of graphic violence here is high, though not too disturbing. Because the hero is immortal, he can be endlessly impaled, slashed, and dismembered without any long-term effects, making this, effectively, a very fast zombie movie.

Blade of the Immortal. Written by Tetsuya Oishi. Directed by Takashi Miike. Starring Takuya Kimura, Hana Sugisaki, and Sota Fukushi. Opens November 17 in Toronto (at Scotiabank), Vancouver, Edmonton, and Calgary; and December 6 in other cities including Ottawa and Victoria.