Blade of the Immortal (Mugen no jûnin)


Hana Sugisaki points out the logical flaws in the plot; Takuya Kimura just doesn’t care.

(2017) Martial Arts (Magnet) Takuya Kimura, Hana Sugisaki, Sôta Fukushi, Hayato Ichihara, Erika Toda, Kazuki Kitamura, Chiaki Kuriyama, Shinnosuke Mitsushima, Ken Kaneko, Yôko Yamamoto, Ebizô Ichikawa, Min Tanaka, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Seizô Fukumoto, Renji Ishibashi, Shun Sugata, Yoshiyuki Yamaguchi, Jon Iles (voice), Philip Hersh (voice), Libby Brien (voice). Directed by Takashi Miike

 

Immortality is not all it’s cracked up to be. It’s intensely lonely – particularly when everyone you know and loved was already dead. Immortals would be likely to become hermits as the pain of getting close to anyone would outweigh the comforts of companionship. Being immortal, in other words, sucks.

Manji (Kimura) is a samurai who loves only his little sister Machi (Sugisaki). Manji kills his corrupt lord and takes Machi on the run with him after the lord murders her husband and drives Machi insane. The two are cornered by ronin after the bounty on his head; after he agrees to disarm himself so that Machi might get safe passage, the ronin leader kills the girl anyway out of spite. Manji then slaughters every member of the ronin before collapsing to the ground, mortally wounded.

He is approached by an 800-year-old witch (Yamamoto) who infuses him with sacred bloodworms that will heal all his wounds and render him immortal. Rather than being a blessing however, he quickly realizes that he has been cursed and must wander around as a rogue samurai himself, alone and friendless.

A half century later, he is approached by another young girl, Rin Asano (also Sugisaki). Her father, a dojo sensei, has been murdered by the ambitious Kagehisa Anotsu (Fukushi) who has plans to unite all the dojos in Japan into a kind of super-dojo under his control. He has also kidnapped Rin’s mother, although her head shows up mounted on the shoulder plate of the armor of one of Anotsu’s lieutenants. Rin wants justice and the witch essentially led her to Manji to get it. Manji realizes that this might well be his opportunity at redemption that would break the curse and allow him, finally, to die.

Taking on Anotsu who has some secrets of his own is no easy task, even for a guy who can’t be killed. Also there’s the nearly insane Shira (Ichihara) whom Manji has exacted a terrible price from and who means to get his revenge on the immortal, even if it means killing Rin.

Miike is a visual stylist who has the poetry of violence that Scorsese utilizes. He is artful with his gore and mayhem; the fights carefully choreographed to be almost ballets of carnage. Severed limbs fly through the air in graceful parabolas while jets of blood fountain from fatal wounds but this is no Grand Guignol. It’s most definitely Art.

This director is definitely an acquired taste but one worth acquiring. He has a connection with Japan’s collective id and knows how to tap into it so that even audiences unfamiliar with Japanese culture can relate although it’s much easier if you’re at least conversant with Japanese cultural norms. He also, like Scorsese, is superb at shot composition and knows how to frame the action, often with the most bucolic and idyllic of backgrounds.

I can’t whole-heartedly recommend this; at more than two hours there are plot points that go nowhere and characters leap into the story wildly from nowhere, careen about the plot a bit like a pachinko machine and disappear, never to be seen again. I’m not one for saying that a master should be edited but this could have used some brevity. Also, Sugisaki just about always shrieks her lines; I get that there are some cultural differences between what is acceptable acting practices between the States and Japan but godamighty she gets annoying very fast and she’s in most of the scenes.

This isn’t for the faint of heart nor should it be. As I say, Miike is an acquired taste and like sushi, there are plenty of those who will resist acquiring it. Those who can appreciate the delicate tastes and textures of sushi can enjoy it as a favored dish the rest of their lives; so too those cinephiles who appreciate the different and the unique will discover Miike and be able to enjoy his work for the rest of their lives.

REASONS TO GO: The action sequences are intense and satisfying. Miike is a master of shot composition and utilizes some beautiful cinematography. The costumes are magnificent.
REASONS TO STAY: This movie runs a little too long. Sugisaki is nearly unwatchable as Rin.
FAMILY VALUES: There is all sorts of violence and gore.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Miike’s 100th film in a 22 year career…he has since filmed three more (and counting).
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, FlixFling, Frontier, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/29/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 85% positive reviews. Metacritic: 72/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: 13 Assassins
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Coco

Pick of the Litter – November 2017


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

Justice League

(Warner Brothers) Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller. With Superman seemingly out of the picture and an alien threat putting Earth squarely in the crosshairs, Bruce Wayne aka the Batman sets out to unite the most powerful beings on Earth to fight this threat but without the Last Son of Krypton, what chance do they have? Continuing events set in motion with Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, the DCEU continues to evolve. November 17

INDEPENDENT PICKS

The Light of the Moon

(Imagination Worldwide) Stephanie Beatriz, Michael Stahl-David, Conrad Ricamora, Catherine Curtin. After a young woman is sexually assaulted on her way home, she finds every aspect of her life changing from her success as an architect to her relationship with her boyfriend. As she struggles to find a way to find intimacy and regain her sense of self she finds that the strongest obstacles are often the people who mean the most in this particularly timely drama. November 1

 

Blade of the Immortal

(Magnet) Takuya Kimura, Hana Sugisaki, Sôta Fukushi, Hayato Ichihara. A legendary samurai is cursed with immortality after a crucial battle. Doomed to wander the earth, he knows he must kill enough evil in the world to regain his soul. Haunted by the brutal murder of his sister, he meets a young girl whose own family was slaughtered by a ruthless swordsman. He agrees to be her bodyguard and take on the murderer. This is the latest movie from iconic Japanese director Takashi Miike (Ichi the Killer) – his 100th feature, an astonishing number to say the least. November 3

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

(Fox Searchlight) Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Peter Dinklage. A woman grieving the loss of a murdered daughter grows impatient with the local police department which has yet to solve the crime. In order to spur them on, she puts up a series of billboards near her home in Missouri asking why there has been no progress on the case. The results cause fireworks in her community, making her a hero to some and a pariah to others. There is buzz that McDormand has a good shot at an Oscar nomination for her performance here. November 10

Mudbound

(Netflix) Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Clarke, Jason Mitchell. Two men from rural Mississippi return home from World War II to find that nothing much has changed but that they themselves have. One, an African-American, finds that the country he put his life on the line for despises him for the color of his skin; the other, a white man, wonders if he can ever go back to the way things used to be. November 17

Brimstone & Glory

(Oscilloscope) Viktor Jakovlevski. One of the most unusual and dangerous celebrations on Earth is the National Pyrotechnic Festival in the village of Tultepec, Oaxaca, Mexico. During the 10 day celebration, elaborate fireworks displays are set off but not just high into the air; fireworks are shot everywhere and at everything. People – mostly men – dance among the fireworks and while some get severely burned, there is a religious ecstasy that is fascinating and beautiful to watch. November 22

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story

(Zeitgeist/Kino-Lorber) Hedy Lamarr, Diane Kruger, Robert Osborne, Mel Brooks. Hedy Lamarr was one of the most beautiful women in the world and a major Hollywood star. Admired for her classical good looks, she eventually faded from notoriety as she got older as is wont to happen with actresses who have the temerity to age. However, behind the beauty was brilliance – Lamarr was responsible for inventing the technology that made GPS, secure Wi-Fi and Bluetooth possible but nobody would believe at the time someone so good looking could possibly be so smart. November 24