The title cards have barely finished forming before they are splattered with monochromatic blood in BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL (無限の住人), legendary Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike’s 100th film. This sheer amount of output is even more staggering when you consider he has done it in just over 25 years. As those familiar with his oeuvre might expect, Miike has compacted his entire career of bloodletting into a singular entity.
Adapted from the long-running manga series by Hiroaki Samura, it follows Manji (Takuya Kimura), a skilled samurai cursed with immortality after one of the most epic opening battles in cinema history. Following the death of his own sister, Manji is recruited by Rin (Hana Sugisaki) to take revenge against a band of renegade swordsmen. So begins an almost endless series of fights, presented in all of their limb-lopping and artery opening glory.
Miike has directed several successful forays into the jidaigeki (period) genre in the last decade, most notably the international successes of 13 Assassins and Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai. It’s the former that BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL shares the most DNA with, with the warriors literally slipping on the blood they’ve created by the end of the film. It’s an equivalent length to 13 Assassins too, but isn’t content to simply re-staging the 45 minute battle sequence. It’s an escalating bloodbath that aims to keep taking the violence up a notch, the kind that will elicit guffaws of joyous laughter from seasoned viewers of the cult circuit.
Yet there’s a certain amount of repetition to the structure as well. Betraying its serial origins, a series of individual fights during the second act start to feel episodic. This doesn’t make a fight with a fellow immortal seem any less spectacular, but it might numb some viewers to the climactic moments by the time they roll around. The photography of Nobuyasu Kita, a regular collaborator with Miike, is gorgeous.
Miike’s year started with the series Idol X Warrior Miracle Tunes, a corporate-looking fantasy series aimed at young girls. By the time the year is out, Miike’s filmography will hit 101 titles with an adaptation of the wonderfully named JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond Is Unbreakable Chapter I. There are few filmmakers working today that are not only this prolific, but deal with such grand scale at the same time. BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL may not be Miike’s most groundbreaking work, or even his most accomplished samurai film, but it is certainly one of his bloodiest. For his legions of hard-earned fans around the world, that just might make it his best.