It has been a while since I last did a review round-up of any festival but fellow cinephile and Twitter-user FelixAguirre regularly collects links to reviews and alerts them to me and with such a treasure-trove of opinions from the most recent Cannes Film Festival on offer, I’d be mad to turn them down. First up…
When it comes to Takashi Miike writers regularly reach for the same words: prolific, extreme and controversial. His career has definitely lived up to the definitions as he has carved out an international reputation as an auteur unafraid of accessing the darker side of humanity with horror titles like Audition, gangster films like Shinjuku Triad Society, and musicals like The Happiness of the Katakuris. Lately, he has adapted anime and manga for the big screen and he has hit his 100th feature-length film with another adaptation, Hiroaki Samura’s manga about a samurai who cannot die no matter how badly he gets cut up.
無限の住人 「Mugen no Juunin」
Running Time: 140 mins.
Release Date: April 29th , 2017
Director: Takashi Miike
Writer: Tetsuya Oishi (Screenplay), Hiroaki Samura (Original Manga),
Starring: Takuya Kimura, Hana Sugisaki, Sota Fukushi, Hayato Ichihara, Erika Toda, Kazuki Kitamura, Chiaki Kuriyama, Ichikawa Ebizo XI, Min Tanaka,
Warner Bros. Japan have been cranking out anime and manga adaptations in recent years in order to capitalise on existing fan-bases and sell known names to audiences¹ and one of their go-to Japanese filmmakers is Takashi Miike who follows up the grisly and stupid Terra-Formars (2016) (based on an even more grisly and stupid manga) with a fantasy jidaigeki based on a manga by Hiroaki Samura. His next film is, wait for it, based on a manga. It’s Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable and it is released in August. Jojo’s fans everywhere let out a scream (mostly of anger) when the announcement was made because nothing will capture the manga but you never know, it may be good (trailer for the JoJo’s movie).
Miike has great form when it comes to jidaigeki considering he made 13 Assassins (2012) and Hara-Kiri (Death of a Samurai) (2013). Warner Bros have the financial muscle and a crew experienced in that genre considering they were behind the excellent Rurouni Kenshin, Rurouni Kenshin Kyoto Inferno and Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends.
Blade of the Immortal was shot in Kyoto from November, 2016 until January of this year. It stars Takuya Kimura (I Come with the Rain – a decent yet rather unheard of serial killer film – and 2046), Hana Sugisaki (Pieta in the Toilet), Chiaki Kuriyama (Shikoku, Exte: Hair Extensions), Min Tanaka (Maison de Himiko, Haruneko, and the Rurouni Kenshin films) and the charisma vacuum that is Sota Fukushi (almost entirely forgettable based on the performance I saw him give in Library Wars – I have a hard time remembering anything specific about him other than he was in the cast and made no impression on me).
Synopsis: Manji’s (Takuya Kimura) is a wandering swordsman. That’s nothing special but what makes him different is the fact that he was given eternal youth and immortality younger by a mysterious woman after his sister was killed in front of him and he was left for dead but came back from the brink to kill their attackers. During his journey he encounters Rin Asano (Hana Sugisaki) whose parents were killed by a group of swordsmen belonging to “Itto ryu” and her parents’ fencing studio was destroyed. She desires revenge for her parents’ death and after seeing Manji in action she asks him to be her guard as they take on the “Itto ryu”.
Reviews from Cannes generally follow the same story – talk about Miike’s long career and then segue into talking about his latest by comparing it to his 2013 remake, Thirteen Assassins and then talk about how great action sequences that utilise the grisly premise of an unkillable samurai make for a good adaptation of the lengthy source material.
“The answer, of course, is yes, and it leads to one stylised showdown after the other, many of which are savagely funny. If you have a healing factor, and you find yourself chained up by the wrist, why not just lop off your hand?” Jordan Hoffman – The Guardian
“The story’s supernatural elements enable Miike to take huge liberties with chanbara, the oldest genre in Japanese cinema, and break free from rigid traditions of choreographing swordplay sequences — to the extent that the film’s free-form combat moves and creative, Gothic weaponry serve to accentuate the renegade spirit of Anotsu’s and Shira’s rival schools.” Maggie Lee – Variety
The next review gives away a couple of the plot twists but continues in the same vein:
“The director’s 100th feature, Blade of the Immortal shows Miike to have lost none of the madcap energy and wit that characterize his best work. And while this is not that, it’s still got more style to burn than almost any recent Hollywood actioner.” Harry Windsor – Hollywood Reporter
Generally speaking, the actors who play the villains get the best reviews, especially Erika Toda and Sota Fukushi (much to my shock). Considering this is based on a manga that started life in 1993, there’s a lot to adapt but reviewers praise him and his writer for tackling things head on and turning the film into a series of inventive fights. However, while the action may be a lot of fun and inventive viewers might get tired of just how much of it there is:
“When kicking off with a whole lot of combat and then offering a lot more of the same, it sets the audience up for a lot of combat fatigue. Miike and crew try to obviate that outcome by focusing on the particularities of each Ittō-ryū assassin – all them have wildly different costumes, personalities and fighting styles – and by thinking of new ways to mangle the main hero’s body… Even at two hours, the film would feel awfully repetitive; at nearly two and half, even the ostensibly thrilling end battles feel like a drag.” Ben Croll – IndieWire
Overall, critics liked what they saw and it has a rating of 7.7/10 on IMDB
“The extent of Takashi’s Miike’s prolific output is nothing if not stunning, and Mugen No Jūnin, 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, the violence consuming and the death toll, if going by sheer number, needs to be reduced by the power to be comprehended.” Joseph Owen – The Upcoming