Blade of the Immortal is being billed as Japanese director Takeshi Miike’s 100th film, and the fact that this cinematic centenary has been reached in only a few decades is appropriate considering the breakneck velocity at which his films are paced. This is no exception. From the get-go it positively drips Miike (a man whose ethos is that you should never feel ‘secure’ when watching a film), drawing on influences from throughout his prolific career.
You could probably nail what you’re going to see just from the title; fantasy-tinged samurai nonsense. Here, a jaded, immortal warrior is asked by a bereaved girl to avenge the unlawful killing of her family. Cue lots of adventuring around Edo period Japan, meeting all kinds of horrible people, and then summarily relinquishing them of their limbs.
Whilst the content and structure are more akin to the straight-laced samurai drama of Miike’s previous Hari Kiri and 13 Assassins, Blade of the Immortal’s tone owes much more to his surreal comedies. Thrown into the melting pot for good-measure is a hearty dollop of the fantastical and the comic-book violence of Ichi the Killer, another trademark of the director’s work. The result is nothing short of bizarre, but not as disjointed as the presence of all the influences might suggest.
Miike has the knack for delivering outrageously entertaining action, executed with adept technical proficiency throughout. Some will see these comic action sequences as thrilling, others might see the unfolding carnage as juvenile, but the truth is that it is knowingly both. Blade doesn’t take itself seriously, it asks you to leave your brain at the popcorn kiosk and have fun.
The slightly deranged Miike cobbles together works, despite looking hideous when written down – the end result being a digestibly humorous action spectacle which entertains as much as a silly two-and-a-half-hour samurai film can be expected to entertain.
Viewers unaccustomed to Miike’s unpredictable style may well be left cold, but everything works well enough to electrify audiences with minds open enough to submit to the film’s distasteful charms.