Fringe with Benefits: BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL

FRINGE WITH BENEFITS is a rotating column here at Ghastly Grinning that seeks to highlight films that aren't necessarily "horror" but cross into the realm through the periphery. Taking a look at the disturbing, fantastic, and macabre, FRINGE WITH BENEFITS ensures to be a pleasant addition to any genre lovers pallet. 

Blade of the Immortal is Takashi Miike’s 100th movie. That’s an amazing feat—and the fact he doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon means that he’s making it damn near impossible for lagging viewers to play catch up. I’ve seen just over 20 of his movies and that’s barely scratching the surface. Most other directors would be happy to reach 20 movies in their entire career. Miike, on the other hand, will have another 20 movies added to his credits within the next decade.

As a filmmaker he’s had an interesting career, flexing his chops across several genres, oscillating between the mainstream and arthouse at will, all the while delivering some of the most memorable films to emerge from the cinema of the Land of the Rising Sun ever. One minute he’s pushing the limits of onscreen violence and absurdity, then the next thing you know he’s making family movies. That said, he can be frustrating at times, and his latest outing encapsulates the director’s best and worst qualities.  

The story here is pretty simple. A samurai is cursed with immortality and spends his days without purpose. That is until he meets a young girl who enlists him to avenge the death of her parents at the hands of a clan of master swordsmen,. Together they embark on an arduous adventure to find the enemy, hacking and slashing through several colorful goons along the way before a final bloody showdown for the ages. Chaos ensues, blood sprays, and limbs are severed. In terms of sheer visceral thrills, Blade of the Immortal ticks all the right boxes to appease the action junkies and gorehounds, but compared to some of the director’s other work, the violence is restrained. This is an example of Miike packaging his gruesome tendencies for the global mainstream—Ichi the Killer, it is not.

Blade of the Immortal is Miike’s third foray into the samurai genre. The film is based on the manga of the same name by Hiroaki Samura, and it’s an adaptation which embraces those comic book sensibilities. Our protagonist slays his way through armies of opponents, only slowed down temporarily by injuries that eventually heal themselves anyway. He’s a one man killing machine, and his journey is a series of episodic encounters against villains that wouldn’t feel out of place in a video game. It’s a meticulously crafted splatter yarn, chock full of exhilarating action and escapist entertainment.

There’s also plenty of charm and humor peppered throughout which lends the story some heart. The central relationship between the samurai and the avenging orphan echoes the Shogun Assassin/Lone Wolf and Cub series and their interactions make for some pleasant moments in between dismembered bodies piling up.

Blade of the Immortal would be close to perfect if it was a 90 minute movie. However, like a lot of Miike’s work, it’s unnecessary long and almost as exhausting as it is exciting. At nearly two and a half hours, the movie suffers from bloating, which ultimately stops it from being something special. As I mentioned earlier, the action is top notch, but the film is overstuffed with fight scenes that bleed into each other. After a while, it just feels repetitious. But the pros outweigh the cons at the end of the day and this is still a fine piece of cinema.

For all Miike can be a frustrating filmmaker, he’s still a one of a kind maverick and cinema would be a much emptier place without his contributions. Blade of the Immortal isn’t perfect, but it’s a good time nonetheless. Here’s to another 100 movies.