Blade of the Immortal - Movie Review
Updated: Nov 5, 2019
I was wandering through a Barnes & Noble in the summer of 98 when I eventually found my attention arrested by the cover art to a particular graphic novel sitting among the other manga titles. As a martial arts fan & practitioner I was drawn the to katana-wielding ronin on the cover, and the title - Blade of the Immortal. I bought the first two volumes- Cry of the Worm & Blood of a Thousand, and that was all it took. As I flipped through the pages, I was falling in love with every turn. Hiroaki Samura's alternating between ink & pencil layouts were a graphic illustration wet dream incarnate. Nearly twenty years later, with the entirety of the whopping 31-volume series sitting on my bookshelf, I hear there's a live-action film about to ambush me out of fucking nowhere. I watch the trailer on YouTube about thirty times, and froth at the mouth with what I'm seeing.
Could someone have really adapted my favourite comic to live-action, and did so really, really well? From what I saw in the trailer, I was hopeful. I found the anime to be tragically too toned-down and really wanted to see this amazing story translated to another medium more faithfully. While the story is essentially a lengthy odyssey dense with character and plot elements, I felt if someone could take the core of the premise, and pull it off in two-plus hours, it wouldn't be all that bad. After all - it was being directed by one of the best directors from Japan, Takashi Miike, a guy I personally rank up there with Kurosawa and Kitano.
The plot is relatively simple - a dying samurai is bestowed immortality by an enigmatic witch of sorts, and down the line, he crosses paths with a young girl seeking revenge for the murder of her parents. What ensues is a brutal bloodbath of vengeance, closure and penance.
The cast and costume/art direction is spot-on, and a perfect xerox of the comic. Everyone aces their role; Takuya Kimura's Mangi was every bit the 'Musashi meets Mifune in Yojimbo' wry-witted badass slaughtering foe after foe, despite the fact he gets really, really fucked up whilst doing so. The actress that played Rin, Hana Sugisaki, really knocked it out of the park. Another favorite of mine from the books, Makie, was one of my favourite parts of this movie, and I enjoyed the use and representation of the character so much.
The action element of this does not in any way disappoint- the martial arts choreography is really some of the best I've ever seen, and every swordfight slaughter-fest was amazing in every way the anime was not. The first ten minutes alone were jaw-droppingly badass.
I loved this movie so much. As a fan of the source material, I couldn't be happier. It took me nearly three hours to watch because the cinematography was so beautiful I was captivated by the visuals so much I kept forgetting about the subtitles, and had to keep rewinding certain scenes. The score was a great classical arrangement and really complimented the tone of the story.
If you're into comic book/manga adaptations, revenge flicks, martial arts films and really intense sword fights - put this on top of your list. You will not be disappointed.