Japanese Films at the Cannes Film Festival 2017 Review Round-Up: Takashi Miike’s “Blade of the Immortal”

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…

Blade of the Immortal Film Poster 3

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.

Blade of the Immortal / The Inhabitant of Infinity (Literal Title)Blade of the Immortal Film Poster

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,

Website IMDB

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 Film Image

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 Blade of the Immortal Manga Imagecareer 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

Blade of the Immortal Cannes Photo

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


Blade of the Immortal Film Poster 2

18 thoughts on “Japanese Films at the Cannes Film Festival 2017 Review Round-Up: Takashi Miike’s “Blade of the Immortal”

  1. i must confess the anime of this tale seemed to have slipped through my fingers.

    I’m sure Miike does something interesting with this but his track record with films running over 2 hours doesn’t fill me with much confidence of its sustainability. :/

    1. I’m tempted to check out the manga or anime this is based on. As for the live-action, it looks and sounds like a step-up from that Yakuza Vampire film from a couple of years ago. The fights are the highlight and they sound good.

      I think fans will have to get used to the fact that his Dead or Alive/Ichi the Killer days are behind him. Or at least pretty rare.

      I still clearly remember the audience walking out of the cinema at a screening of his film over ten years ago, haha.

      1. Huh … wha … “Blade of the Imortal” and no SWASTIKA CONTROVERSY!!??!!

        Talk about your “whitewashing” in Anime …

        I saw the anime a few years ago via Netlix DVDs. They abruptly end the series as so many anime series do.

        I will see this live-action when available, but they have dug themselves a hole with the lack of swastikas and BLOODWORMS! How is he supposed to heal himself without the worms?

        Re: “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”

        He is immortal but can be killed if another immortal cuts him up enough. In the manga/anime he is “sentenced” to kill 1,000 evil men so that he can die. (Why not just go to SONY Entertainment headquarters then you ask?)

        At the end of the anime opening theme, it shows the character with a modern day city backdrop. They never went there in the anime, but I suspect if the anime had survived longer, the story would end up in modern times.

      2. Having never watched the anime or read the manga, that’s really interesting information. Thanks.

        I’m tempted to go back and watch the anime and read the manga because I like the look of the art and it would be great to see it and get context for the film which I hope is released in cinemas in the West!

        Out of all the Japanese films screened at Cannes, I’ve settled on a small one being the most interesting for me!

      3. I must apologise. I just did a check and I see that I in fact HAVE seen the anime! Can’t have been much if I had forgotten all about it! 😮

      4. I have been watching anime since the 80s and I don’t think I’ve seen that many!!!

        Even when I was in Japan, I only watched a couple of episodes of JoJos and some Satoshi Kon films!

      1. The swastika isn’t associated with Nazis/fascism in Japan – instead it is often seen as a symbol of strength in relation to Buddhism and is used to denote Buddhist temples on maps, so they’d not give it a second thought to use it in that respect.

        However, they apparently have become aware of its meaning to us in the west and for the upcoming Olympics have agreed to cover any Swastikas (called “Manji”) to avoid causing offence.

      2. This is a middle-path that’s probably most appropriate for the time being. There’s a general lack of sensitivity to fascist imagery but that doesn’t mean everything should be chucked out.

        Westerners on both sides should also avoid bringing their politics in as well. People tend to have chauvinistic worldviews and need to accept that there are differences around the globe and must adapt. Eventually, we’ll come to a point where we can have an open and frank discussion about these things but it will take time.

  2. Finally finished the movie last night. I held the Netflix Blu-Ray for a week.

    I thought it was pretty good. A lot better than watching the Oscars anytime.

    It really had that “based on a manga/anime” look to the characters. Slightly unrealistic, and maybe a little bit of posing.Over-the-top villains, etc.

    The little girl was very cute.

    The bloodworms were decent. I thought they would make a bigger deal out of it, and do a lot more regeneration.

    They really WIMPED OUT by changing the Swastika to bend swords. The manga/anime reader will recognize it. I guess they were too concerned about a possible misunderstanding.

    The character was an “anti-hero” so why not let him wear the swastika?

    A controversy might have been good PR for the film, and would have been a good way about educating the public (snotty college students for example) about what the origin of the swastika really was.

    The ending makes it so the story could continue. I expect two more.

    1. It was at two cinemas near me but I couldn’t work up the enthusiasm to stay late to watch it. I did see Miike’s latest, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and was mildly entertained.

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