Few films command attention the way Japanese samurai dramas do. However, in a world dominated by five-minute videos and flashing superhero franchises, attention spans tend to shrink. Blade of The Immortal seems to cater to its audience in a unique way, mixing traditional Japanese cinema with mystical elements in a wonderfully puzzling way.
Takashi Miike’s [known for: Yakuza Apocalypse, First Love] 2017 Japanese action drama is based on the manga series of the same name, written and illustrated by Hiroaki Samura. It manages to cover the first two arcs of the series, in which we follow Rin Asano (Hana Sugisaki), a young girl on a quest to avenge the death of her loved ones. She enlists the help of an immortal samurai bodyguard, Manji (Takuja Kimura), whose blasé approach to vengeance and death bleeds into her own perception of righteousness. He challenges her understanding of her enemies’ actions, inadvertently reflecting on his own cursed past. Together, they face Kagehisa Anotsu (Sota Fukushi) and the rest of Ittō-ryū, a society of samurai assassins responsible for the upheaval of Rin’s life.
The cinematography lures in with its play of colours and shifting shadows. Every shot could easily be formatted into a postcard, with earthy hues as vibrant as a thumping chest. In the background, silence kneads the atmosphere into one of breathless suspense – even during Manji’s refreshing outbursts of humour. However, the dreamy setting quickly turns stormy. We delve into the murky musings of commoners, outraged by the injustice of the social classes. In fact, the entire film is quite heavily focused on voicing philosophical questions. These reflections, unfortunately, serve to halt action at the strangest of times.
As we are introduced to plot-driving “zombies” with a thirst for unattainable death, the story reels back from the obvious, juicy gore that would naturally follow. Instead, we pause and contemplate the presented – and staunched – violence. The greatest source of agony, of which there is a teeth-grinding overload, seems to be the pain of treating your wrongdoers with empathy. This comes after the film drops its black and white canvas, smearing the lines separating right from wrong.
Generally speaking, the film floats somewhere between a samurai drama and a manga, serving a heavy dose of humour, without which the plot would be tough to chew. The directions the story goes in are questionable at times, but never dull. So as strange as the whole experience might seem when the credits start rolling, it is hard to deny the film’s entertainment value.
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