Cannes 2017: Blade of the Immortal [Mugen No Jūnin]

The quantitative extent of Takashi’s Miike’s prolific output is nothing if not stunning, and Blade of the Immortal, reportedly the Japanese director’s 100th film, also stuns in its particular way. It’s difficult not to leave the cinema with your body slightly heavier, your head a little lighter. The pace is relentless and the violence consuming. To be comprehended, the death toll needs reducing to the power (much like Miike’s filmography). Aside from the mathematically disposed, most will struggle with exponentiation on such a scale.

This is a revenge tale with two interwoven trajectories of redemption. Manji (Takuya Kimura) is a better-than-average samurai who, for reasons which require little courtesy, is cursed with immortality by a crooked old woman – Manji prefers the terms “bitch” and “cow”. She forces hideous parasitic worms into his body, for context. The Faustian pact is set as the wriggly maggots heal the warrior’s wounds and reattach any mutilated limbs. This happens a lot. In fact, the same thing happens a lot: sword fight, death, anguish, repeat. It’s quite endearing and seeing the poor man near the end, barely standing and quietly perplexed at the umpteenth battle, is a symbol for human empathy the world over. The monochrome opening sequence, the only aspect which differentiates the film from the subsequent nonstop bloodletting, depicts the grim death of our protagonist’s sister. Manji’s guilt-ridden quest for his own demise brings him into the path of a young girl named Rin (Hana Sugisaki) who seeks to avenge the death of her parents, murdered by the merciless and slightly androgynous Anotsu (Sôta Fukushi), leader of an ISIS-style, ideologically pure death cult. The explicit mirroring of Rin and the sister Manji failed to protect isn’t original, but as a device to propel the action along and ground the characters’ motivations it offers just enough substance.

Based on a series of Manga comics, the film captures the cartoon violence and humour of its source material. The admirable choreography of the fight scenes result in regular heaped masses of the dead, providing an amusing counterpoint to the intensity of the preceding free-for-alls. The cinematography is uniformly excellent, and the fallen regularly look like figures in a sombre Brueghel scene. Miike has a stab at cerebral concerns, interrogating the morality of the various combatants – how can one legitimise their murderous wrongs, while damning others for similar crimes? – but, on the whole, the film aims for the viscera – this is incessant, silly and entertaining fare.

★★★★

Joseph Owen

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Joseph Owen

PhD, Carl Schmitt, Modernism and Sovereignty at University of Southampton

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