If Wolverine was a Samurai, it might play a bit like Blade of the Immortal. Takashi Miike‘s 100th film (100!) features a grumbling, jaded warrior who just can’t die, and Miike puts him through the ringer fight after fight (after fight after fight) as the bodyguard of a young girl on a mission of vengeance. It’s chaotic, utterly insane, and ultimately a blast, even if it is a bit of a meaningless mess.
The film stars Takuya Kimura as Manji, a Shogunate Samurai known as the “Hundred Killer.” How did he earn such a title? Well, by killing a hundred people, of course. Blade of the Immortal picks up fifty years earlier in a black and white sequence where we meet a still-mortal Manji trapped in a life caring for his younger sister (Hana Sugisaki) after he killed her husband in his line of duty. When a band of villains cruelly dispatch of his darling sister, Manji unleashes his full skills, slaughtering them in the street where they stand, leaving a pile of body parts littered around his sister’s dead body. A hundred men later, Manji has taken some critical hits and lays down to die when mysterious crone feeds “bloodworms” into his body, healing him on the spot. From then on, Manji can never die. He can only fight and grimace and continue to live, no matter what violence is inflicted upon him, knowing that the bloodworms will sew him up every time.
With immortality on the plate, Manji becomes a grizzled, lonely figure, embittered by his endless life until he meets Rin (also played by Sugisaki), a spirited young woman seeking revenge after a merciless group of warrior murders her father and allows his men to rape and kidnap her mother. Master Anotsu (Sota Fukushi) leads the group, known as the Itto-Ryu, who are determined to destroy all dojos and rigid codes of combat technique. At first, Manji is reluctant to take up Rin’s cause, but charmed by her plucky insistence and her resemblance to his sister, he eventually takes a job as her bodyguard, putting his immortal powers to work to exact the girl’s vengeance.
What follows is essentially a series of combat sequences as Manji takes on one henchman after the next. It’s entertaining, but it’s also draining and repetitive. The fights don’t have the kinetic elegance or distinguished choreography of superior samurai films, including Miike’s spectacular 13 Assassins, and the fights eventually seem to bleed into each other with little in the way of interstitial moments of drama or character work. That is perhaps the most frustrating element of what is otherwise a wildly entertaining film; Miike knows how to direct action, but aside from Blade of the Immoral‘s wild, spectacular final battle, none of the set-pieces feel singular or all that memorable.