The Omniplex near me is a grand place. Clean, tidy, friendly staff. The only bad thing about it is the choice of films. If it isn't a blockbuster or a CGI cartoon for kids or at least have a big well known actor in it, it probably won't get shown there. If you are looking for a foreign film then you are shit out of luck. So you can only imagine my surprise when I heard the new Takashi Miike film, Blade Of The Immortal, was being shown there. A 2.5 hr long subtitled Japanese samurai film from a master of extreme cinema. Oh yes.
Manji is a Samurai with a difference. Mortally wounded in pursuit of vengeance, he was given the gift of immortality by a witch (stay with me). He can be wounded in battle but he'll never die of his wounds. They heal but he will be left with the scars of war. Manji lives an aimless life until one day he is approached by Rin Asano, a young girl who has lost her parents to the lawless denizens of the Ittō-ryū dojo. She requests his help in getting revenge and it gives him a new lease of life.
I loved this. It had me glued to the screen and the running time which would usually be an issue for me flew by. It's led by two characters you'll genuinely come to care about and the interplay between them is fun and later becomes almost familial. Takuya Kimura as Manji & Hana Sugisaki as Rin are great. They really sell the desperation and pain they suffer but the quieter scenes between them are lovely and lighten the film. Character moments aside it rarely stops for breath at all. It's full of amazing fight scenes and despite the sheer amount of brutality on display it still manages to find time for a lot of comedy. Some of it albeit very black. One scene sees so many limbs lopped off that it brought to mind Monty Python ("tis but a scratch"). The ridiculous weaponry on display is a goldmine of laughs too, every battle sees weaponry that could only have been created by a psychopath being unsheathed. Your enjoyment of this film will depend on your ability to handle onscreen bloodshed though. It's amazingly violent. The first 10 minutes alone has a body-count that will rival the entirety of most Hollywood actioners. It's quite breathtaking. Actually it's so over the top that it tempers the violence and makes it almost comic and easier to take.
If you are used to the film work of Takashi Miike you'll find it curiously old fashioned too. And yes I know the above picture looks anything but old fashioned but the extremes of his earlier work like Fudoh, Ichi The Killer and Dead Or Alive have been rounded off. One horrible scene earlier in the film is played out only through sounds and screams and it's one earlier Takashi would have shown in every grimy detail. Thankfully for his 100th film, yes 100th, he has taken the higher ground. Sort of.
One thing I loved about Miike's movies is the lack of concession to Western viewers. You get dropped right in the middle of everything. Very little explanation is given. Aspects of Japanese culture and folklore will seem very alien to you if you haven't seen much Japanese cinema. The supernatural elements and scenes of seppuku and the importance of honour and Rōnin culture might throw some people but it's really all just dressing on a very straightforward tale of revenge. It's a story that's been done a million times but when it's this stylish and exciting who cares.
Give it a go if it comes to a cinema near you. It's rare a film like this gets a release outside of Dublin and it's good to let the cinema chains know there's interest for movies like it. It's a bloody good time at the pictures.