Blade of the Immortal (無限の住人, Takashi Miike, 2017)

blade of the immortal posterGenerally speaking, revenge tends not to go very well in Japanese cinema. It has the tendency to backfire. When you’re immortal, however, perhaps revenge is risk worth taking – then again, it’s not your life your weighing. Takashi Miike is no stranger to the jidaigeki world, though in adapting Hiroaki Samura’s manga Blade of the Immortal (無限の住人, Mugen no Junin) he harks back to the angry, arty samurai films of the late 1960s from Gosha’s Sword of the Beast with which the manga features some minor narrative similarities, to Kobayashi’s melancholy consideration of corrupted honour, and the frantic intensity of Okamoto’s Sword of Doom.

The film opens in black and white as a disgraced samurai, Manji (Takuya Kimura), tries to protect his younger sister, Machi (Hana Sugisaki), who has gone mad through grief only to see her murdered by a bounty hunter. Manji enters a state of furious, mindless killing which leaves the bounty hunter’s vast crowd of henchmen lying dead and Manji mortally wounded. Consumed by guilt and having lost the sister who was his sole reason for living, Manji longs for death but a mysterious old woman who calls herself Yaobikuni (Yoko Yamamoto) has other ideas and curses Manji to a life of eternal suffering by means of sacred bloodworms which give him the power of infinite, near instant healing.

Fifty years later, the land is at peace under the Tokugawa Shogunate but peaceful times are dull for warriors. The Itto-ryu school of swordsmanship has a mission – to take over all of the nation’s martial arts facilities and restore power to the sword. They have no honour or ideology save that of kill or be killed and are content to use any and all weapons which come to hand. A young girl, Rin (Yoko Yamamoto), is a daughter of one of these schools and has her eyes set on becoming a top swordswoman herself but when the Itto-ryu show up at her door, Rin’s father’s training proves worthless as he’s cut down with one blow while the gang kidnap Rin’s mother. The Itto-ryu’s sole concession to morality is in letting Rin alone, seeing as it’s “vulgar” to toy with children.

Rin vows revenge on the Itto-ryu’s leader, Anotsu (Sota Fukushi), at which point she runs into Yaobikuni who recommends she track down Manji and hire him as a bodyguard. Fifty years of immortality have turned Manji into an isolated, embittered wastrel with rusty swordskills but Rin’s uncanny resemblance to Machi eventually begins to move his heart. Despite generating a master/pupil, big brother/little sister relationship, Manji fails to teach Rin very much of consequence that might assist her in her plan to avenge her family, leaving her a vulnerable young woman beset by enemies and random thugs, and eventually caught up in a government conspiracy. The irony of Manji’s life is that he’s just not very good at the art of protection and all of his attempts to do something good usually provoke an even bigger crisis, in this case leaving his new little sister open to exactly the same fate as the one he failed to save for much the same reasons. Apparently, Manji has learned little during his extended lifetime except how to brood and glare resentfully at the world.

It turns out being immortal is kind of a drag. Manji wants to die because he can’t cope with the burden of his guilt, but another similarly cursed man he meets has lived much longer and lost far more, becoming tired of the business of of living. Manji’s existence has lost all meaning, but as he puts it to another world weary warrior who shares his brotherly grief, he’s not the only hero of a sad story. Rin’s need for vengeance gives him a purpose again – not just in the literal revenge, but in being the protector (though one could argue this is less positive than it sounds and might explain why he fails to teach Rin anything very useful, even if it doesn’t explain why she also forgets all her father’s teachings).

Rin remains conflicted over her mission of revenge, confessing to a similarly conflicted assassin that she agrees killing is wrong but that right and wrong no longer matter when it comes to people you love. A dangerous and dubious assertion, but it does bear out the more positive message that love, or at least learning to live for others, can be a transformative force for good as Manji allows himself to resume his role as the big brother despite his past failings. Violent and visceral, if also humorous, Blade of the Immortal is, oddly enough, a story of love but also of cyclical paths of violence and revenge, and of the general muddiness of assigning the moral high ground to those engaged in a quest for retribution.


Blade of the Immortal was screened as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2017 and will be released in UK cinemas courtesy of Arrow Entertainment on 8th December.

International trailer (English subtitles/captions)

Maison Ikkoku: Apartment Fantasy (めぞん一刻, Shinichiro Sawai, 1986)

Maison IkkouIf you’ve always fancied a stay at that inn the Katakuris run but aren’t really into zombies and murder etc, you could think about spending some time at Maison Ikkoku (めぞん一刻). Based on the classic 1980s manga by Rumiko Takahashi, the 1986 live action adaptation is every bit as zany as you’d hope. Eccentric tenants, women pulled from ponds, bank robbers, and an all star dog. It’s a pretty full house, but if anything’s for certain it’s the more the merrier over at Maison Ikkoku.

Godai (Ken Ishiguro), a would-be student retaking his university entrance exams, has finally had enough and vowed to move out of Maison Ikkoku for good but just as he’s made his decision, an elegant woman arrives with a big white dog. The beautiful lady, Kyoko (Mariko Ishihara), is their new building manager. Godai falls instantly in love with her and decides to stay, but Kyoko has her own reasons for coming to Maison Ikkoku and isn’t quite ready to engage in a romance with a feckless student.

Kyoko also makes the mistake of reminding the collection of eccentric tenants that they’re behind on their rent. There are currently four residents occupying the apartment building including Godai. He’s joined by the mysterious Yotsuya (Masato Ibu) who seems to have several different jobs and speaks in an overly formal manner, Ichinose (Yumiko Fujita) – a gossipy middle aged housewife, and Akemi (Yoshiko Miyazaki) who works at a nearby bar and is almost always in her underwear. They don’t want to pay so they start coming up with plans to stop Kyoko coming after them for the money – the first one being to drug and assault her so she’ll be too embarrassed to talk to them again! Went dark quickly, didn’t it?

Despite the quirky goings on, the presence of death is constant. Kyoko is an extremely young widow sill mourning the death of her husband and has even named her dog after him. Shinichiro keeps making his ghostly presence known to her by ringing the nearby shrine bells or stealing her umbrella, making it impossible for Kyoko to move on. A non-resident but frequent visitor (played by Kunie Tanaka) recounts that his wife left him and took part in a double suicide with another man, whilst the gang also picks up another member in the form of a woman that Yotsuya claims to have fished out of the lake after she “got caught on his pole” and is now a little obsessed with him thinking that he’s the boyfriend she tried to commit suicide over.

If that all sounds a little heavy, Sawai makes sure to pile on the absurdism to keep things light and even includes a few visual gags such as a floating geisha doll during Yotsuya’s “I regret preventing a woman’s suicide because it turns out she’s quite annoying” speech. About half way through the film the entire gang suddenly decides they’re going to perform an “Ikkoku speciality” in celebration of Godai’s success which turns out to be a full scale song and dance number with everyone dressed in outfits that reflect their personality from Yotsuya in his temple singer garb, Ichinose in her wedding dress, Akemi in a nurses outfit, and Godai and Kyoto both in a school uniform, to the mysterious man dressed as a hardboiled detective the failed suicide woman for some reason dressed as a nun. Just when a big “The End” sign pops up we get yet another song accompanied by glow sticks waving in the background.

The main “drama” revolves around Godai’s attempts to pass his university entrance exams and win the heart of Kyoko though there are also various subplots concerning the odd rivalry between Yotsuya and the mysterious man over a bank robbery as well as their attempts to evade the police. Maison Ikkoku becomes a kind of sanctuary where those with wounded hearts can find a place to heal themselves. Occasionally bleak, such as in the frequent references to death and suicide, Maison Ikkoku is an absurd place filled with larger than life characters acting out their surreal existence in this shared paradise of a rundown boarding house in a quiet backwater. The film ends on another ironic note as the party goes on but the Gilbert O’Sullivan track Alone Again, Naturally plays over the end credits which is, of course, about the singer’s intention to commit suicide after being jilted at the altar. A strange if well crafted film, Maison Ikkoku is in someways ahead of its time in the quirky humour stakes but also makes use of a typically ‘80s kind of absurdism which fuses black humour with innocent, youthful charm.


Original Trailer(s) (No subtitles)

They Call Me Jeeg (Lo Chiamavano Jeeg Robot, Gabriele Mainetti, 2015)

JEEGItalian cinema once had a hearty appetite for genre fare, but has long since abandoned the weird and wacky in favour of the arty or the populist. You wait years for an Italian superhero movie and then two come along at once. Following on from Gabriele Salvatores’ much younger skewing The Invisible Boy which perhaps owed more to Spy Kids than anything else, first time director Gabriele Mainetti brings us a bloody, R-rated yet humour filled look at the superhero genre filtered through Japanese manga and anime rather than US comic books.

The film begins with an aerial shot of Rome accompanied by loud panting which turns out to belong to petty criminal Enzo (Claudio Santamaria) who is currently running hell for leather away from the various policemen who are chasing him. Eventually he dives into the Tiber where he accidentally puts his foot through the lid of some barrels which have been dumped in the river and gets covered in some kind of gunk. After finally getting home he’s violently sick and shaky but probably thinks it’s just from being cold and wet or some other random thing picked up in the water.

At this point, he decides to sell his genuine rolex watch through a fence he knows, Sergio (Stefano Ambrogi), who currently works for a gangster named “Gypsy” (Luca Marinelli). Sergio ends up taking him on a job which is supposed to involve extracting drugs from inside a pair of dope mules but one of them is in a fairly bad way and Sergio’s refusal to take him to a hospital sees the other one grab his gun and shoot him. Enzo is caught in the shoulder and falls nine floors down to the street below but actually is pretty much OK. Later he realises his gunshot wound is healing surprisingly quickly and he’s apparently super strong too. With great power comes great responsibility? When you’re as isolated as Enzo, maybe not so much.

Enzo is 100% not a match for The Chosen One. He is totally disinterested in his fellow human beings and just wants to be left alone. In fact, the first thing he does when he figures out he has superpowers is steal an entire ATM (he didn’t know about the anti-theft dye) and use the cash to buy a fridge full of yoghurt and some more porn to add to his collection. He isn’t even really very bothered about his friend’s death except that he’d rather not attract the attention of Gypsy and his henchmen.

However, Sergio had a grown-up daughter, Alessia (Ilenia Pastorelli), with some kind of psychological condition which has her in an infantilised state where she’s obsessed with the 1970s Go Nagai mecha anime series, Steel Jeeg. After Enzo, against his better judgement, jumps in to save her from Gypsy she becomes convinced that he’s the real Steel Jeeg and tries to persuade him to use his powers for the good of all humanity.

The de facto antagonist of the story, Gypsy (real name “Fabio”), is a petty gangster and former wannabe reality TV star with grand ambitions. The deal that Sergio was working on was part of a larger collaboration with the Neapolitan mafia who are starting to wonder where all their drugs have got to and are just about ready to come looking for them themselves. Gypsy’s yearning for fame is further irritated by the presence of the so called “Super Criminal” who is already a star on YouTube and immortalised in graffiti all over the city. A violent psychopath with a taste for flamboyant outfits and cheesy music, these twin pressures are fit to send Gypsy way over the edge.

Mainetti ties in current social concerns with the constant TV news reports about large scale protests against austerity and a series of terrorist incidents which are later said to be a mass conspiracy perpetrated by the mafia to try and influence government policy (seemingly successfully). Conversely, he satirises modern society’s dependence on social media with everyone whipping out their phones to try and capture Enzo’s superhuman capabilities and Gypsy’s attempt to make himself a YouTube star with some superhero stuff of his own as well as frequently mocking his former attempt to become a big name celebrity through taking part in a TV reality show.

Ironically, the actress playing the difficult role of Alessia was herself a star of Italy’s version of Big Brother and this is her first acting role. It has to be said that her performance is nothing short of extraordinary as she perfectly captures the strange innocence of this wounded child woman who seems to have experienced a number of traumatic incidents in her past which have pushed her further and further into her anime themed delusional world. In many ways she is the heart of the film using her own superpowers of love and innocence to try and reawaken Enzo’s humanity and push him towards becoming a functional human being who is able to recognise the potential for good his new found powers may have.

Though filmed for an extremely modest budget, They Call Me Jeeg displays extremely high production values mostly concentrating on in camera effects backed up with inventive cinematography. Refreshingly opting for a more grown-up approach, the film doesn’t stint on blood or violence either but is careful to avoid becoming exploitative and is also frank in dealing with its difficult romantic subplot. An impressive debut feature from Mainetti, They Call Me Jeeg succeeds not only in providing action packed entertainment but also manages to mix in a fair amount of humour to its subtly melancholic atmosphere eventually climaxing in an unexpectedly moving finale.


Reviewed as part of the Cinema Made in Italy festival at London’s Ciné Lumière in March 2016 where it screened under the title They Call Me Jeeg Robot.

There doesn’t seem to be an English subtitled trailer around yet but this film is so much fun I can’t even tell you!