"Blade of the Immortal" is the 100th film by Takashi Miike, a Japanese director who for 25 years has tried his hand at gangster pictures, westerns, horror, comedy, superhero sagas, animation and just about any other genre imaginable … in modes that range from grubby low-budget sleaze to rousing crowd-pleasers to abstract art.
Adapting a beloved Hiroaki Samura manga series, Miike has more money to work with than usual. He used it to make a sword-and-samurai epic that spans decades, with elaborate sets and enough extras and stunt performers to stage several long, corpse-littered battles.
"Blade of the Immortal" begins with a doozy of a fight scene — shot in black-and-white — which ends with the warrior hero, Manji (played by Takuya Kimura) getting cursed with immortality. As his severed hand knits back onto the bloody stump of his wrist, the title fills the screen, accompanied by a splash of red.
Fifty years later — as the film shifts to color — Manji meets Rin (Hana Sugisaki), an adolescent who recruits him to avenge her parents. Desperate to give his endless life meaning, the swordsman agrees. Much slashing and lopping ensues.
Miike has covered this territory before, in his cult films "13 Assassins" and "Hara-Kiri." "Blade of the Immortal" is larger in scale; and perhaps because of that it's a little less funky and a little more repetitive, as the heroes roam from one similar skirmish to another.
But Miike retains his twisted sense of humor, with mangling and disemboweling deployed for comic effect. And after 99 movies, he certainly knows how to make action memorable. When 300 brightly clad actors with sharp props come storming in for the story's climax, all a martial arts fan can do is sit back and salivate.
Rating: R, for bloody violence and carnage throughout
Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes
Playing: Landmark Nuart, West L.A.