Blade of the Immortal, the 100th film from Japanese director Takashi Miike, is neither a bad film nor is it a great film. It is a significant cut above your typical B-movie samural/martial arts film, but if you are looking for an instant classic like Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) or Wong Kar-Wai’s The Grandmaster (2013), you will be disappointed. Blade of the Immortal is competent entertainment, but if you only like martial arts films that reach the pinnacle of the genre, you should look elsewhere.
As with so many samurai films, this is a tale of revenge. In its opening scene, Manji (Takuya Kimura) is mortally wounded while avenging the death of his sister. An ancient mystic saves his life, but curses him with immortality in the process. He is indestructible, but he still feels pain. He is destined to outlive all the people he loves. When a young girl named Rin loses her father and wishes to avenge his death, she asks Manji to serve as her bodyguard and trainer during her quest for vigilante justice. One tale of revenge begats another tale of revenge in a seemingly endless cycle of bloodshed. (Did I mention Rin’s father was murdered by an outlaw samurai seeking revenge against Rin’s grandfather?)
The film is populated with interesting, eccentric characters, and the performances are uniformly solid. However, Blade of the Immortal falters when it comes to telling their stories. There are large exposition “dumps” throughout the film that find a variety of ways to use voice-over narration to fill in the plot holes. New characters are introduced in a split-second, sending the narrative ping-ponging in ever-changing directions. It feels as if the true cut of this film was about three hours long, and all of the transitions were left on the cutting room floor.
The most egregious sin committed by the film is its mediocre fight choreography. Extras and scenery are used to obscure the violence. Severed limbs hit the ground and blood sprays, but you can rarely discern what caused the damage. Swords clang and blows are exchanged, but it is all carried out with very little imagination. In the best martial arts films, you can readily reference the stand-out set pieces: the fight in the rain in The Grandmaster or the fight across the treetops in Crouching Tiger. Blade of the Immortal has no such moments in its 140-minute run time. The action is nearly constant, but none of it stands out in your mind after the credits roll.
Much like horror fans, martial arts fans watch hours of dreck, trying to find that diamond in the rough that’s hidden among all of the mediocre releases hitting the market every week. Blade of the Immortal is not one of those diamonds. However, if you are a true fan of the martial arts/samurai genre, it will definitely tide you over until something better comes along.
Blade of the Immortal opens at Landmark Theatre locations across the country on Friday, November 3, 2017.
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.