Big Screen Berkeley: ‘Blade of the Immortal’, ‘The End of the Ottoman Empire’

Trouble looms in Blade of the Immortal

Mugen no jûnin (Blade of the Immortal, opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, Nov. 3) is being promoted as director Takashi Miike’s 100th film. That would be quite an accomplishment for any filmmaker, but it’s especially impressive considering that Miike only started directing in 1991 — meaning he’s averaged approximately four films a year in his still relatively young career.

Of course, when one examines the particulars of his resume, it becomes apparent that many of these productions were straight to video cheapies or television show episodes. And, while it’s not my intention to slight Miike’s work (which includes such memorable titles as Audition (1999) and The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001)), no one gives equal weight to the 17 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents directed by Hitchcock himself.

But I digress. Based on a manga by Hiroaki Samura, Blade of the Immortal stars Takuya Kimura as Manji, a samurai warrior granted eternal life by a wandering witch in white, who infuses him with magical ‘bloodworms’ after an intense opening battle which leaves him almost as severely hobbled as Monty Python and the Holy Grail’s Black Knight. The worms bind all wounds and even reattach severed limbs, which comes in handy when you’re battling scores of heavily armed bad guys.

Manji (Japanese for swastika, hmm) subsequently makes common cause with orphan Rin (Hana Sugisaki), whose sensei father has been murdered by rival swordfighter Anotsu Kagehisa (Sôta Fukushi). Together, Manji and Rin cut a bloody swath across the Japanese countryside before the film’s over-the-top climax.


While its body count is ridiculously high (hey, this is a Miike film), Blade of the Immortal’s promising black and white prologue suggests the film is intended as a tribute to the samurai classics of the 1950s and ‘60s. Alas, once the midichlorians – oh, sorry, bloodworms — are introduced to the narrative, the film transitions to color and loses some of its allure and nostalgic appeal.

Miike also overeggs his pudding, which clocks in at 140 minutes. Akira Kurosawa was capable of holding our interest with a two and a half hour samurai movie; Miike, of course, is no Kurosawa. By the end of Blade’s second hour many viewers are going to find their interest flagging.

One hundredth film hoopla notwithstanding, Blade of the Immortal is largely going to appeal to admirers of Miike and fans of samurai cinema. If you don’t fall into either camp, you can probably give it a miss.

‘The End of the Ottoman Empire’

The End of the Ottoman Empire

If you’re looking for a good précis of Middle Eastern history, The End of the Ottoman Empire (screening at Pacific Film Archive at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 4 fits the bill perfectly. (Update: The Nov 4 screening has sold out, but there are two further screenings of the film on Nov. 10 and 19). Produced for French television by Mathilde Damoisel, this two-part documentary makes it crystal clear that history hasn’t come to an end quite yet.

For centuries, the Ottoman Empire was the dominant power in Asia Minor, southern Europe, northern Africa, and much of the Arabian Peninsula. Damoisel’s documentary tracks the Empire’s demise — due in large part to the rise of 20th-century ethno-nationalism – from the capture of Constantinople in 1453 to the rise of Daesh in 2014. It’s compelling,  informative, and timely.