With Blade of the Immortal, Takashi Miike has made 100 goddamn movies. Think about that. And while I don’t envy the person who has seen them all, there are definitely some great gems in there, many of them in different genres.
Despite that wide genre span, it’s especially exciting that he’d make his 100th film a Samurai picture, as his 13 Assassins is a full-on masterpiece and one of the biggest, most impressive films in his already crazy career. Blade of the Immortal has a lot on its shoulders. So, I report with some sympathy that it fails to live up to that high standard.
First the good stuff. This is a supernatural, comic book level film. To that end, it is filled with a solid amount of charm, humor, and interesting characters. It also sports a very fine amount of gore. There are kills in this that will totally bring the house down, most of them in service of laughs. Judging it just as a film with great moments throughout, Blade of the Immortal succeeds.
But at nearly two and a half hours, great moments are not enough to elevate Miike’s latest. Blade’s main issue is pretty simple - the film is way too long and filled with repetitious action. By the time it gets to its (admittedly great) finale fight, one is likely to feel exhaustion much more than elation.
Miike gets to the core premise quickly. A failed samurai is granted eternal life by a supernatural witch. The mechanics of his inability to die involve parasitic worms that apparently just put him back together again whenever he gets fucked up or loses a limb. Fifty years later, a young girl’s parents are murdered by a warrior determined to take out every stiff, dogmatic sword fighting school in Japan in an effort to build his own fencing empire. She, of course, wants revenge, and that pesky witch leads her to the immortal Manji’s door.
The next half hour is structured around one-on-one fights with various colorful villains. The fight choreography is decent and Miike captures it well, but even this early in the film a weariness begins to set in. Manji cannot be killed, but he sure takes a lot of damage. In fact, he doesn’t seem to be a very good Samurai at all, as nearly every tussle he has results in wounds that would kill a normal person. Miike definitely has some violent fun with a protagonist who can weather extreme punishment and keep ticking (this is particularly true when Manji runs into yet another immortal guy), but these fights get tiring after a while.
And it all just lasts so long, episodically moving from one fight to the next until things wrap up with a giant, Kill Bill-style Samurai showdown. Such a thing is usually pretty exciting, but here there’s only so much hacking and slacking you can look at before it all starts blurring together.
It’s a shame because elements of the story are quite good, particularly the complexity offered the villain, Anotsu Kagehisa, a rebel on his own mission of vengeance who would likely be the hero of any other story.
Blade of the Immortal isn’t necessarily bad. There are too many cool elements going for it. But even as it gets a good thing going, there’s just too much of it, turning something that should be a total slam dunk into an often frustrating slog.