Fifty years ago, a samurai known as Manji (Takuya Kimura) was wandering Japan with his sister (Hana Sugisaki) who had been so traumatised by an act of violence that her mind had been reduced to that of a child younger than her age. He felt a great duty to look after her, but one day tragedy struck when they both met with a gang of around a hundred men who grabbed the girl and told Manji to throw down his sword if he wanted her to live - then killed her anyway. He was so enraged that he murdered every single one of his antagonists, almost dying in the process, but there had been an eight-hundred-year-old nun watching and she decided this man did not deserve to die...
She had magical powers, you see, and infused our protagonist's bloodstream with a special type of worms that heal his body with such incredible speed that he cannot now die, or at least that's what he has been told as we see there are methods of harming him and even bringing him close to death; to say more would be to give too much away. This film was a landmark in director Takashi Miike's career, as it represented his century: a hundred films and television and video projects with himself at the helm, so what better to craft, however quickly he did so, than a tribute to all those samurai flicks he grew up watching? As was often the case, this had its plot drawn from a manga comic.
Naturally, the fans of the original had much to grumble about in the way Miike and his screenwriter Tetsuya Oishi went about this, though compiling a compact narrative out of umpteen issues of the comic books was never going to be an simple task (and the swastika emblem was wisely dropped), and when are diehards ever satisfied that the screen versions are faithful enough to the movie they had playing in their heads when they were reading? This jumped chronologically from Manji's inception as the immortal of the title, essentially cursed to wander the world until he has served his greater purpose and killed a whole load of evildoers, to his half-century as a warrior who may carry the scars of battle, but can never be completely defeated.
But every samurai in these heroic fiction circumstances needs a sidekick, right? That's what he got whether he wanted one or not (and he didn't), in the shape of Rin Asano, who was also played by Sugisaki to emphasise the fact that if he assisted her, he could go some way to achieving the redemption that was his only shot at redeeming his soul, if indeed he continued to have one after all he had been through. Once persuaded that he must avenge the murders of her parents because there's no way a young girl deserves to have that bloodshed on her conscience alone, and besides there's little guarantee she would succeed, Manji set about cutting down various antagonists who have a habit of popping into his life when he could well do without them, which is the story of his life, more or less.
It was the story of the film, anyway, and a lack of complexity in the plot that nevertheless lasted almost two and a half hours long could have been regarded as a flaw by some, but it was comparatively easy to follow even for those not well versed in samurai movie conventions, or clichés, if you preferred. Albeit one with fantasy details like the immortality which nobody else can explain, expecting it or otherwise: this aspect was somewhat taken for granted since what happens in the usual comic doesn't need to be spelled out or have a backstory as appeared to be necessary in your average movie come the twenty-first century. Kimura had a world-weary quality that made him sympathetic, if not exactly electrifying company when he wasn't in an action scene, and the theme of atoning for a past guilt, justified not, was added on rather than informing the plotline to an extensive amount. Still, the action was good, the villain (Sôta Fukushi) was formidable in his androgynous menace, and Miike could have done a lot worse to celebrate with. Music by Kôji Endô (but not much of it).
Japan’s most controversial director, notorious for his dauntingly prolific output and willingness to push the boundaries of taste. Miike started working as an assistant director in the late 80s, before moving into making straight-to-video thrillers in 1991. He made his feature debut in 1995 with the violent cop thriller Shinjuku Triad Society, and since then has averaged around seven films year.
I remember the manga had a huge fan-following when it first came out almost two decades ago, but never got around to reading it. Apparently the plot does have depth so maybe Takashi Miike simplified things for the live-action movie.
7 Apr 2018
I have no doubt he did, it's like any adaptation of a long-running comic. But this is a pretty decent samurai movie with a fantasy twist, doesn't feel like it goes on too long despite the extended running time.