Takashi Miike has pinballed from genre to genre during his singular career, with results ranging from the WTF psychosexual horror of Audition, the world destroying cop saga Dead or Alive, and seemingly everywhere between. (In the mood for a musical about cannibals featuring stop-motion claymation? Happiness of the Katakuris has you covered!) Blade of the Immortal, Miike’s 100th film (nope, not a typo), finds the director in something approaching traditionalist mode, using his penchant for splattery weirdness to bolster the story, rather than careen entirely off the rails. While the swordplay here isn’t as crisp as in his previous Thirteen Assassins, it more than compensates with sheer riotous excess. Critically speaking, this thing’s a hoot.
Compressing Hiroaki Samura’s long-running manga series, the story follows a grumpily honorable swordsman (Takuya Kimura) rendered unkillable after being infected with sacred bloodworms. After half a century of wandering, he finds himself entrusted with helping a young girl avenge her family. Heads soon roll, along with pretty much every other conceivable body part.
Few movies can deliver the primal goods like a samurai picture, and one of the joys for genre fans here is in watching the filmmaker both honor and goof on the standard trappings, mixing the traditional pre-duel staredowns and serious discussions about honor with increasingly bizarre weaponry, oddball characters, and just plain strangeness. (Only Miike would have someone complain about how a sword smells of innards.) For all that, though, Blade of the Immortal’s best element proves to be its main character, whose deadpan, long-suffering demeanor gives the film its final touch of welcome absurdity. Whether fighting a woman armed with a lethal musical instrument, or facing off against what may literally be a zillion goons during the hallucinatorily gooshy finale, for him it’s still somehow just one damned thing after another.