By Adam Cook
Blade of the Immortal, 2017, directed by Takashi Miike
Takashi Miike is 57 years old and released his first film in 1991. In the 25 years and change since he has made about 100 movies. Yes, that’s right, 100. In other words, the beloved cult director delivers three or four per year on average. Amongst those films, he has made movies that are perceived as trash, even pornographic, as well as ones hailed as high art. He has made video game adaptations (Ace Attorney), low budget arthouse films (Izo, Visitor Q), gangster flicks (Graveyard of Honor), musicals (Happiness of the katakuris), a delightful children’s film (Ninja Kids!!!), a touching fantasy (The Bird People in China), and one of the most memorable horror masterpieces ever (Audition). A chameleon-like workman, many see Miike as a craftsman for hire rather than a personal artist—but then how do you explain the prevailing eccentricities of his filmography? While his style ranges depending on both the resources he has at hand (which ranges from micro to slick blockbuster) and the genre he’s working in (action, horror, comedy, drama and various combinations of all of them).
Heavily influenced by manga (which he commonly adapts from as well), Miike is like an illustrator who inventively brings disparate stories to life with great invention and a somewhat demented joie de vivre. He seems to be driven by a desire to challenge himself to see how many different ways he can make a movie.
His latest film, The Blade of the Immortal, is a samurai film injected with a distinctly Miike sense of the strange. A companion piece to his superb samurai films 13 Assassins and Hara-kiri while also a new spin on the tradition, it feels like a perfect meeting point between different poles of Miike’s filmmaking: the serious and the silly, the grounded and the surreal, the commercial director and the artist—as such it also works as a solid entry-point for first-timers. The film follows Manji, who fails to save his little sister in the opening scene and takes the lives of dozens of men (her captors) in vengeance, only to be cursed with eternal life by a mysterious woman. Fast forward 50 years and this character has grown bitter and cynical, forced to continue living, haunted by his past. Enter a young girl whose family is murdered and needs help getting revenge and Manji is given a new purpose, and a new chance to make up for his misdeeds.
We’re also screening what may be Miike’s most notorious film, and the cult favourite to put him on the map for Western audiences: Ichi the Killer. A demented, even perverted crime saga about feuding yakuza with a mix of gross-out and black humour, this singular oddity will make you laugh and cringe for all the right reasons. For all its vulgarity, it manages to be one of Miike’s most affecting and serious works of art—a film fully aware of its unseemly qualities that explores violence and dark aspects of the human psyche. Catch both films between December 1st and 3rd to see just two different sides of a multi-faceted and wildly talented director who simply cannot be pinned down.
Blade of the Immortal plays from Dec 1 – 3 at VIFF Vancity Theatre.
Ichi the Killer plays for one night only, Dec 2, 9:30pm.