Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 24, 2017

Blade of the Immortal

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 5:53 pm

Starting off as an enfant terrible film director in 1991, Takashi Miike—now 57—has just made his 100th film. Showing no signs of mellowing, his “The Blade of the Immortal” is a 140-minute samurai movie that climaxes with its two main characters fending off an entire battalion of Shogunate soldiers in a sword fight that sums up Miike’s esthetic in William Blake’s words: “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom…You never know what is enough until you know what is more than enough.” Considering the length of the film (11 minutes were cut from the original) that defies commercial expectations and required the recruitment of 300 extras for the mind-boggling climax, Miike demonstrates an independence that is all too lacking today, including in Japan where the film industry has lost its edge.

The word immortal in the film’s title does not connote fame. Instead, it refers to the main character’s inability to die. In the opening scene that is a mirror image of the climax, samurai warrior Manji (Takuya Kimura) takes on fifty or so bounty hunters who want to reap the reward for bringing him in. After ten minutes of gloriously choreographed hacking and stabbing, all the bad guys are dead and a bloody and staggered Manji appears to be taking his last breath. A deus ex machina appears in the form of a wizened female demon who casts a spell on him. This involves the infusion of “bloodworms” (minute demonic creatures) into his body that miraculously brings him back to full health no matter how many times he is stabbed, beaten or otherwise injured. Like the wolfman Larry Talbot played by Lon Chaney Jr., Manji eventually realizes that immortality is a curse. But unlike Larry Talbot, a silver bullet (or sword) will not do the job.

This is not the only (and probably unintentional) echo of American popular culture in Miike’s film. After Manji retreats from civilized society and begins leading a hermit-like existence in a shack on the outskirts of town, he is visited by a teen girl named Rin Asano (Hana Sugisaki) who heard about the swordsman who cannot die. She sees him as the ideal candidate to take revenge on Kagehisa Anotsu (Sōta Fukushi), the samurai who killed her father. He was the master of a samurai academy that Anotsu sought to shut down as part of a move to monopolize sword-fighting instruction in the Shogunate under his Itto-ryo academy. Essentially, the teaming up of Manji and Rin against the evil Anotsu evokes “True Grit”, with Manji having the same combination of crustiness, obstinacy, and fighting skills seen in Rooster Cogburn and Rin exemplifying the determination and spunk of Mattie Ross.

Showing the same blend of mayhem and humor as Akira Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo”, but with Miike’s flair for the Grand Guignol, Manji fights off another group of bounty hunters midway through the film that costs him his left hand. After he dispenses with the bad guys, he nonchalantly picks up the severed left hand and tucks into his kimono where he will reattach it later through the help of the bloodworms.

“Blade of the Immortal” is based on mangas (comic books) by Hiroaki Samura that must have been irresistible to Miike since it is a mash-up of samurai action and anachronistic punk attitudes and style. One of the female warriors in the film wears a skin-tight purple costume that looks like something a member of Prince’s band might wear.

You can get an idea of what to expect in a Miike film based on who he considers his favorite directors: Akira Kurosawa, David Lynch, David Cronenberg, and Paul Verhoeven. My advice is to go see “Blade of the Immortal” when it opens on Friday at the Quad Cinema. If you enjoy it, you might want to find his other films in the regular streaming and DVD venues:

Dead or Alive (http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/culture/dead_or_alive.htm)

Happiness of the Katakuris (http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/culture/Katakuris.htm)

The Great Yokai War (https://louisproyect.org/2006/06/21/the-great-yokai-war/)

Zebraman (https://louisproyect.org/2007/08/09/zebraman/)

13 Assassins (https://louisproyect.org/2011/07/14/three-samurai-movies/)

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai (https://louisproyect.org/2012/07/24/hari-kiri-death-of-a-samurai/)

Plus Audition, a great film that was my introduction to Miike that I never got around to reviewing. The influence of David Cronenberg is palpable.


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