Mugen No Jūnin (Blade of the Immortal)
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. The mathematically illiterate will struggle and exponentiation on this scale isn’t easy.
This is a revenge tale with two interwoven trajectories of redemption. Manji (Takuya Kimura) is a better-than-average samurai who, for reasons which require little courtesy, is cursed with immortality by a crooked old woman – Manji prefers “bitch” or “cow” – who forces hideous parasitic worms into his body. The Faustian pact is set and the wriggly maggots help him to heal and reattach any mutilated limbs. This happens a lot. In fact, the same thing happens a lot: sword fight, death, anguish, repeat. It’s quite endearing and seeing the poor man near the end, barely standing and quietly perplexed at the umpteenth battle, is a symbol for human empathy the world over. The monochrome opening sequence, the only aspect that differentiates the film from the subsequent nonstop bloodletting, depicts the grim death of our protagonist’s sister. Manji’s quest for his own demise then brings him into the path of a young girl named Rin (Hana Sugisaki), who seeks to avenge the death of her parents, murdered by the merciless and slightly androgynous Anotsu (Sôta Fukushi), the leader of an ISIS-style, ideologically pure death cult. The explicit mirroring of Rin and the sister Manji failed to protect isn’t original, but as a device to propel the action along and ground the characters’ motivations it offers just enough.
Based on a series of Manga comics, the film captures the cartoon violence and humour of its source material. The choreography of the fight scenes is to be admired, and the heaped masses of dead provide an amusing counterpoint to the intensity of the preceding free-for-alls. The cinematography is uniformly excellent, and the fallen regularly look like a sombre Brueghel scene. Miike has a stab at interrogating the morality of the various combatants – how can one legitimise their wrongs, while damning others for similar crimes? – but, on the whole, this is incessant, silly and entertaining fare.
Mugen No Jūnin (Blade of the Immortal) does not have a UK release date yet.
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Watch the trailer for Mugen No Jūnin (Blade of the Immortal) here: