When we talk of particularly prolific directors, Takashi Miike’s name doesn’t so much as come up as it does dominate the entire conversation.
Even just so much as peaking at his genre-bending filmography from the last 25 years, at least two things become undeniably clear: Miike is one of, if not the most unhinged filmmaker on the planet, and Blade of the Immortal is, as advertised, his one hundredth film. That’s a lot of plots, a lot of characters and knowing Miike’s usual horror/action-driven fare, a lot of dead bodies. So it seems only apt that this latest, and his most festival-friendly in a while, has arguably one of the biggest body counts of them all.
Famed in both his native Japan and really, the world over, for pretty much owning the ‘extreme cinema’ label, hardcore Ichi the Killer and Audition fans might find this one a little more tame though it must be said. While the director’s trademark hyper-violence is still very much in tact, Blade falls rather comfortably in with his other recent samurai movies. Like 13 Assassins, the blood, the brains, it’s all there, but on the battleground everything feels that little bit less out of place.
There’s still plenty of severed limbs flailing and enough decapitations to put the horror genre as a whole to shame, but the large majority of the action seems to take the same format. It’s all hack and slash, repeated sword swinging back and forth, like an old, extra-bloody stage of Dynasty Warrior 4, and in the long run, it’s a lot more grating to watch than the usual cacophony of violence Miike brings with him.
Luckily though, Blade peels away from the rest of the director’s samurai saga in just the right places, namely its core concept. In embracing the fantastical – the power of immortality – and finding plenty of ways to subvert and keep it interesting throughout, this one feels just silly enough to fall on the right-side of cult.
Watching the same old master swordsman cutting a path through thousands (and I mean thousands) of faceless goons can get a little tiresome. But when he’s having hands and feet lopped off along the way too, it makes things, surprisingly enough, that much more enjoyable. Picture a more gruesome, feature-length Japanese version of Monty Python’s Black Knight and you’ll be most of the way there.
It is most likely much too long, and a Leon-esque mentoring subplot with a lot of potential is crudely side-lined at every opportunity, but on the whole, this is a mostly happy mid-way point for Miike fans. Part serious historical action epic, part pleasantly ludicrous fantasy swashbuckler. The careful costume design and clever use of ancient weaponry will keep the more artsy audiences firmly in their seats, while the expected gore and overwhelming corpse-count will keep them happily losing their lunches (and occasionally their minds).
Not quite the master’s most empowering or defining work by any stretch, but Blade of the Immortal is as solidly entertaining and comfortably bonkers as promised. Well worth the accolade of marking Miike’s centenary.
Blade of the Immortal was screened as part of the 61st BFI London Film Festival and will be released in the UK on 8th December.