Manji (Takuya Kimura) is a samurai in a bit of trouble. He’s being pursued by officials because of something he did that he cannot take back (namely, kill some folks who had it coming) and now he has to keep moving and protect his little sister. A group of bounty hunters find him, kill his sister, and move in to collect their scalp. Manji is a lot tougher than they bargained for, and he slaughters them all. As he is dying from all of his wounds, a mysterious old lady appears and gives him the gift of immortality in the form of “bloodworms” that will live on inside his body and re-stitch nearly any wound imaginable. And thus, Manji continues on, living a life of misery, until one day a young girl named Rin (Hana Sugisaki) approaches him. She looks just like his dead sister and convinces Manji to help her in a quest for vengeance. Her father was killed by a very skilled clan who are aiming to use their style to take over all the dojos in the country, becoming the supreme style. Rin’s father was in the way, and since he refused to join them, they killed him. Then they raped her mother. Manji takes Rin with him to seek justice for her and, eventually, some form of redemption for himself.
Blade of the Immortal is a very long film based on an even longer manga of the same name. I never read the series so I can’t speak to how it compares, but I can tell you that director Takashi Miike has made another hellaciously great film that is well-worth seeing, especially if you’re a fan of samurai flicks. Using an episodic storytelling device, we follow Manji as he drifts from town to town, with Rin in tow, running into various agents of the enemy clan. He slaughters them all, of course, but not without heavy physical damage. Eventually, he runs into another of his own kind, another immortal. He had no idea any others existed, and his fight with this man almost mortally wounds him. As it is, his injuries heal at a slug’s pace after this encounter, making any future fights that much more dangerous. The film is a bright land of spraying blood, furious sword battles, and gritty, earthy action. It never gets too fantastical until towards the end, when we do see some wire-work, which I found a bit distracting. After so much time spent grounded in realistic fights, seeing someone soar was a bit jarring. But that’s just a quibble (I mean, we are dealing with immortals and bloodworms here). The story is terrific, the journeys that Manji, Rin, and the main villain (Anotsu--played by Sota Fukushi) take as characters are complex and rewarding. You really see each one of them grow and change. And Miike is very good at letting minor characters have their moments as well, building a comradery between the audience and the characters, even the bad guys. And the action…well, you won’t be disappointed.
This is a great movie and one that anybody who loves good movies should be able to enjoy. It is violent, of course, very violent, and the action is fairly non-stop. The movie is capped by two gigantic scenes of slaughter, where one man takes on what seems to be hundreds of enemies. In those breathtaking battles, you can see the heart and soul of Manji. No matter how flawed he is, how many mistakes he’s made, he still ultimately fights for the right reason: honor. If you like samurai movies, this is a no-brainer. If you’re a fan of the manga, you should enjoy the hell out of this. And if you’re on the fence, give it a try. This one could open up a whole new world of cinema to you, and not just that of the samurai film, but also of the wonderful and audacious and insane movies of Takashi Miike.