Blade of the Immortal (4 stars)

Blade of the Immortal

Takashi Miike's manga adaptation combines a series of spectacular face-offs with a dash of moral fibre

Revenge isn't all that simple in a samurai story with moral backbone and a supernatural bent, directed with typical panache by the absurdly prolific Japanese auteur Takashi Miike (13 Assassins, Ichi the Killer, Audition). His 100th feature is based on Hiroaki Samura's manga series, the tale of a down-at-heel immortal who finds renewed purpose when he adopts the cause of a wronged child.

Cursed with eternal life by mischievous nun Yaobikuni (Yoko Yamamoto), swordsman Manji (Japanese superstar Takuya Kimura) is haunted by the death of his sister Machi (Hana Sugisaki) who was slaughtered amid the fallout from his act of rebellion. 50 years later and Manji is a solitary figure still bearing the physical and emotional scars of his battles. Then he meets Rin, daughter to a murdered father who reminds him of his fallen sibling (no surprise, she's played by the same actress). After offering her a literal shoulder to cry on, avenging this gutsy girl offers Manji a real crack at redemption.

Bookended by fights on an epic scale, its opening onslaught gives way to a series of spectacular, smaller scale face-offs, as one by one Manji takes on those responsible for the death of Rin's father and rape of her mother. Known as the Ittō-ryū, this gang of ass-kicking upstarts are led by the arrogant, immaculately kempt Anotsu Kagehisa (Sōta Fukushi) who has staged a revolt in an attempt to disrupt and replace the rigid and elitist dōjō system, with breathtaking warrior Makie Otono-Tachibana (Erika Toda) amongst his cohorts.

Fittingly for a manga adaptation, Blade of the Immortal features cartoonish character designs and larger than life villainy, yet it is also peppered with a surprising degree of conscience. Performed with conviction by a game cast, Rin's grudge against Anotsu doesn't play out as expected and, despite the teenager's thirst for revenge and Makie's martial arts prowess, these two prominent females are far from unquestioning killers. Sporting a wild look in his one remaining eye and a dishevelled appearance, lead actor Kimura strikes an effective balance between deranged and tragic.

Whilst not hitting the exhilaratingly action-packed heights of 13 Assassins, the story pivots and bounds enough to justify the slightly daunting runtime. With sound design that forces you to experience every swipe and splatter, and splashes of macabre humour mingling with the bloodshed, it's not for the easily offended. However the unlikely combination of ultra-violence and compassion may just slash its way to your heart.

Selected release from Fri 8 Dec.

Blade of the Immortal

  • 4 stars
  • 2017
  • Japan / UK
  • 2h 20min
  • 18
  • Directed by: Takashi Miike
  • Cast: Takuya Kimura, Hana Sugisaki, Sôta Fukushi
  • UK release: 8 December 2017

Immortal swordsman Manji (Kimura) is haunted by the death of his sister until he meets Rin (Sugisaki) who reminds him of her and who also seeks vengeance: redemption time! Ultra-violent samurai action directed with typical panache but also with surprising conscience and splashes of macabre humour.