• Mugen no junin / Blade of the Immortal (2017) - Elegant and epic fantasy and quirky characters meet stunning directing and pitiless fight sequences - 10/10 (11/12/17)

    Mugen no junin / Blade of the Immortal (2017)

    Takashi Miike did it again! His one hundredth work as a director is at least one of his very best, if not his greatest film and a serious candidate for movie of the year.

    Everything about Blade of the Immortal just seems perfect to me. First of all, there's the gorgeous cinematography. The first twenty minutes of the film are shot in elegant black and white sequences and tell the background story of a samurai who becomes immortal. The two hours consist of colourful shots with calm and professional camera work. Instead of overusing special effects, the film convinces with a gripping sense for realistic sounds and visuals. It also honours the stylistics of the classic Japanese samurai movies of the sixties and seventies like Zatoichi and Lady Snowblood. The film uses a great mixture of epic long shots and intense close-ups inspired by the world's greatest directors like Sergio Leone. This intensifies the film's atmosphere and gives it an epic dimension. Just as in Sergio Leone's film, moments of silence and narrative elements are followed by shocking outbursts of violence. This makes for a diversified narrative that carries the movie despite its epic length. There wasn't one single unnecessary minute among the one hundred forty ones this film consists of.

    Secondly, the movie has a story that manages to remain relatively simple to follow but still turns out to be profound because of a strong character development. Once again, the movie finds just the right balance between two extremes and the storytelling progresses in chronological and logical manner. Our lonesome samurai Manji gains his immortality from a mysterious eight hundred year-old nun after he had turned against his corrupt lord and lost his sister in an unfair fight against a horde of bandits. Fifty-two years later, Manji lives a secluded life and still has to cope with the poisoned gift of his immortality. When a girl approaches him to help her avenge her family after her father got brutally murdered and her mother raped and kidnapped, Manji sees his dead sister in the innocent Rin. After initially refusing to help, the bitter samurai ends up saving Rin's life and challenging a powerful group of warriors who desire to control the country. Manji doesn't only need to fight those ferocious warriors but has to face numerous competitors and must take care of the desperate Rin.

    Thirdly, the characters have depth and are performed brilliantly by the actors and actresses involved in this film. Kimura Takuya convinces as bitter yet passionate samurai, Sugisaki Hana impresses as innocent yet traumatized young woman and Fukushi Sota delivers the goods as ambitious antagonist who soon becomes hunted himself and has to deal with a conspiracy. The numerous quirky side characters such as the mysterious eight hundred year-old nun, a female contract killer with internal conflicts and a sadist swordsman without any moral compass make the movie even more valuable.

    Obviously, the fight sequences are another essential element of the film. Instead of focusing on elegance, this film concentrates on passion as the combats are quite brutal, fast and pitiless. They give the fantastic movie a gloomy and grounded note that contrasts its epic atmosphere very well. Obviously, most of these fight scenes are exaggerated when a lonesome samurai slays through a group of fifty bandits and kills all of them in roughly five minutes. This intensity is however typical for many Japanese samurai movies and is also related to the eponymous manga series. Overall, the fight sequences are brutal enough to be gripping but also exaggerated enough to fit the movie's fantastic side.

    An honourable mention needs to go out to the soundtrack of the film. It always suits the respective moods of the different scenes and intensifies feelings of anger, despair, fear, introspectivity and sadness among many other elements.

    In the end, Blade of the Immortal is probably my favourite movie of the year because of its clever directing, its intriguing story, its diversified characters, its intense fight sequences and fitting soundtrack. Even with his one hundredth movie, workaholic Takashi Miike proves that he cares as much about quality as he cares about quantity and that he still has a lot to show. Blade of the Immortal definitely elevates him among the greatest filmmakers of all times such as Sergio Leone and Kim Jee-woon.

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