Movie Review: Blade of the Immortal

By Drew Hurley 02.12.2017

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Blade of the Immortal (UK Rating: 12)

Takashi Miike is a legend of Japanese cinema, with memorable and groundbreaking films under his belt like Audition and Ichi the Killer. He has built up a serious catalogue of cult favourite films. This marks a landmark point in his career; his 100th film, and what a movie to hit that point on - an adaptation of the story of the 100-man killer. Hiroaki Samura's legendary seinen series, Blade of the Immortal is a tale of an immortal samurai with a dark past who becomes the bodyguard of a young girl on a quest for vengeance. Fans in the UK are lucky enough to have the opportunity to see this on the big screen as Arrow Films brings it to cinemas nationwide from 8th December.

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It's never easy to adapt a long-running manga series. There have been many, many attempts over the years and they resulted in some absolutely horrendous films. On both sides of the ocean, too, it's not just Hollywood that ruins a grand story, as the live action attempts in Japan can be just as bad. The manga ran for 30 volumes, and this is over 250 chapters. Obviously, fitting all of that into a 150-minute film adaptation is going to require some heavy changes and it's often these changes that end up ruining the movie. Miike has had some experience in this area, though, having adapted numerous manga series over the course of his career. Of course, there was the aforementioned fantastic and well-known Ichi the Killer, but there were plenty of other lesser known series along the way, like MPD Psycho and his 101st film was an adaptation of the phenomenal Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, something that hopefully Arrow Films will bring to the West soon.

Back to this movie, though - while there are some major alterations to the original story, it has the same core elements and the same heart. Manji was a proud samurai of the shogunate and, after discovering corruption in his superiors, cut each of them down - their bodyguards included. In this act, he killed his sister's husband, something that drove her bad and put a price on his head. He didn't stop to explain, he took her and ran. This is where the film opens: Manji and his sister, Machi, travelling Edo when a bounty hunter stumbles on their location; a bounty hunter with a band of 100 men. His sister is slaughtered right before his eyes, and Manji finally has a chance to die, with nothing holding him to the world anymore. He fights, then, with reckless abandon, gaining his moniker of the 100-man killer and leaving him missing an eye, an arm, and an ocean of blood. He's ready to die, but his wish is not granted. An ancient woman gifts Manji with blood worms, sacred creatures that grant him the titular immortality.

Fifty years later, the dojos of Japan are being crushed under the heel of a group of master warriors known as the Itto-Ryu. At one such dojo, they kill the master, rape his wife, and leave the young daughter with a passion for revenge. Her name is Rin and her path leads her to Manji as a certain old crone points her in his direction. Thanks to her resemblance to his lost sister, Manji becomes Rin's blade, cutting a path through each of the Itto-Ryu to their leader, Kagehisa Anotsu, the man who took everything from her.

From the black and white prologue to the heavily red finale, Blade of the Immortal is an action-focused film. Many of the scenes call to mind the cinematography of Tarantino, especially Kill Bill, fitting really, since Tarantino took those styles from the old samurai classics. Some signature battles from the series are done complete justice. The ever-loyal Yojimbo in his kimono of black and white, the strong kanji of "Man" emblazoned across his back as he faces off against numerous Ichiryu, such as the Kenshi Magatsu Taito, the deadly beauty of Makie Otonatachibana, and even the ancient EIku Shizuma. It's not just the Ito-Ryu standing on Manji's path of destruction, though, as series' scumbag psychopath, Shira, is in the mix, looking like a slimy version of Kazuchika Okada. All these battles culminate in a ridiculously over the top finale; a final battle that is a glorious spectacle of violence, a beautiful carnage of gore and death, of blades and bodies.

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Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10
So few manga actually get live action adaptations that live up to the source material, but with such a talented lead at the helm in Blade of the Immortal, this really shines. The adaption of characters, their designs and personalities are loyal, the combat scenes beautiful devastation, the writing smart and occasionally funny - this is what every fan hopes for in an adaptation.

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