Hiroaki Samura’s Blade of the Immortal began life as a Manga series in 1993, where it was published in Gekkan Afternoon magazine and ran for almost 20 years. With sales of over 7.5 million and numerous prestigious awards to its name, it quickly attracted international acclaim.
Spanning two worlds, audacious action, spectacular scenery and the mysteriousness of magic, Blade of the Immortal seemed almost too vast to bring to the big screen successfully, until Hiroyoshi Koiwai, a producer from Warner Brothers Japan, approached renowned director Takashi Miike to take charge of his project. Not one to be daunted by the production’s challenges, Miike’s ambition and vision embraced the concept and took things forward by casting actor Takuya Kimura in the lead role of Manji. With the rest of the cast assembled, an almost three-month shoot began in the freezing temperatures of Kyoto during Winter.
Samurai, Manji, becomes cursed with immortality after a monumental battle during which a personal tragedy profoundly affects him. Desperate to regain his soul, he sets out to fight evil in an attempt to find redemption. He crosses paths with Rin (Hana Sugisaki), an orphan whose parents were brutally slain by Anotsu (Sota Fukushi) and his ruthless gang intent on taking over the surrounding dojos and consolidating the samurai. Agreeing to help avenge her parents, Manji’s life is about to become even more complicated.
The pace is set from the opening black and white fight sequence. Reminiscent of the Crazy 88 massacre in Kill Bill we learn how Manji became immortal, and why he’s so determined to help Rin when they eventually meet. With his power complete, the film changes to spectacular colours with a healthy dose of blood red thrown in for good measure.
What follows is a succession of confrontations with Manji going all Liam Neeson on the various baddies that are daft enough to try and stop him in his quest for vengeance. Incredibly violent, but with the odd smattering of humour, Blade of the Immortal is a treat for the eyes, if you can bear to watch the gore. Find yourself chained up by a bad guy? No problem. Chop your hand off, kill the enemy, grab your hand and the sacred bloodworms in your body will sew that bad-boy back on for you.
The fight scenes are incredibly well choreographed, with many moments seemingly filmed in one continuous shot. A plethora of unusual weapons are showcased and utilised to great effect. Axe-anvils, blades attached to staffs and daggers hidden within swords are all theatrically introduced as well as some outrageous costumes and hairstyles.
The touching relationship between Manji and Rin is similar to Matilda and her saviour in Luc Besson’s Leon, as Rin seeks comfort from a man she doesn’t really know, desperately seeking a father figure and finding herself surrounded by death and tragedy from a young age.
With exceptional performances from Kimura and Fukushi, Blade of the Immortal is a towering achievement and a cinematic experience of epic proportions.