Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike (AuditionHappiness of the Katakuris) was never one to shy away from dark, depressing themes or ultra-violence. But even his most dramatic films have tempered displays of the basest human elements and emotions with humor—subtle or not—and a deep affinity for various Japanese subcultural aspects.

Blade of the Immortal, Miike's 100th feature film, is essentially a love letter to Japanese cinema and mythology, the samurai film and the directors who came before and shaped the field.

In a post-feudal Japanese era, the masterless samurai Manji (Takuya Kimura) is cursed with immortality by an ancient crone. Left to ponder past failings, Manji becomes a recluse until Rin (Hana Sugisaki), the young heiress of a famed dojo, enlists his help in avenging the murder of her family. It seems an upstart young sword school finds the peace-driven lack of discipline in most dojos unacceptable and has aimed to either ensnare them within a network of shadowy schools or kill all who would oppose them. Neat. Manji, of course, takes the job, and proceeds to kill pretty much anyone who crosses his path.

For fans of anime classics such as 1993's Ninja ScrollBlade of the Immortal hits all the right notes—from the devilish cadre of adversaries with seemingly fantastical powers and abilities to the slowly forming relationship of the main characters. Manji and Rin's is a more sibling-like union, but observing her reach her potential as our hero trudges toward redemption in a rapidly changing era that wishes to forget him is satisfying for samurai fans, ninja fans, anime fans, Japanophiles and otaku (Google it) alike. Manji's immortality makes for some truly astonishing gore as well, though it never feels gratuitous so much as it does authentic; sword battles, of course, are many.

Unexplored to any meaningful degree, however, is the changing nature of the era in Japan's history. Battles become borderline tiresome as well due to a long running time. Still, it's hard not to be entertained by the various twists and turns and, for anyone with even a passing fancy in Japanese moviemaking, Blade of the Immortal may just have become king.

9
+So beautiful, so kickass
-Longer than it needed to be

Blade of the Immortal
Directed by Miike
With Kimura and Sugisaki
R, Jean Cocteau Cinema, 140 min.