Blade of the Immortal opens in media res, as Takuya Kimura’s samurai lays waste to his attackers. The sounds of steel and sliced flesh are familiar from Takashi Miike’s previous feudal epics 13 Assassins and Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai. It’s shot in gorgeous black and white. There’s an unfortunate joke about a horse turd.
So far, so Miike. It gets even more so, culminating in an orgy of violence that feels like the climax of a different movie, before the colour is switched on and things get really crazy.
Kimura is cursed with ‘blood worms’ that inhabit his body and keep him alive by repairing his wounds. Tired of living a life of battle, he crosses paths with a young orphan played by Hana Sugisaki, and is drawn into her search for revenge.
Bearing the familiar hallmarks of a manga adaptation, the film sometimes feels like it’s having to hit specific beats or images that fans will recognise from the books. The fantastical elements are suitably cartoonish, but they’re set in a world that’s down to earth and grimy, and contains violence that’s very bloody.
Miike clearly relishes staging all this carnage, but he makes sure it has an impact. Contrary to the type of bloodless massacres that occur regularly in blockbuster filmmaking, every stab here hurts. And there’s lots of stabbing.
Unfortunately it starts to feel like a bit of a slog around the halfway point. Long stretches get pretty dreary, before some flamboyant assassin or other appears to liven things up.
In the end we may not care much about the central duo and their tortured quest. But there’s plenty to enjoy in the fight choreography, fantastic score by Kôji Endô, and Miike’s lovingly crafted tableaus of severed limbs and blood splatter.