The first image of samurai revenge thriller Blade of the Immortal (Mugen no Jûgen) — the 100th (!) film from insanely productive Japanese director Takashi Miike — is a blood splatter, in blackest black, across the screen. A few seconds later, two people have been gutted or cleaved in two by sword. In the final overhead shot of the bravura black-and-white opening sequence, I counted 34 bodies, with probably 20 more onscreen, before the camera cut away. By the end of the movie, which is based on a manga comic and premiered Thursday as a Cannes Film Festival Midnight selection, that body count is easily in the hundreds. There is an actual river of blood.
Doing most of the killing is Manji (stone-cold fox Takuya Kimura), a skilled samurai who has been granted the power, and curse, of immortality by an 800-year-old female Japanese Yoda figure in a white hood who appears on battlefields — and regular fields — to drop wisdom and change lives. Specifically, she pours “bloodworms” into Manji’s mangled body, a kind of reverse parasite that stitches him up in what seems like very gross and painful manner from the inside, so that no matter how many swords to the heart he takes he can still rise up to slay his enemies again.
What motivates Manji is a thornier issue. Back during his normal human lifetime, he accidentally killed his sister’s husband, and then watched her go insane, then get slaughtered by bounty hunters who were coming for his head. When we catch up with him, post-black-and-white-opening, he’s a hermit covered in scars — the bloodworms put you back together, but it ain’t pretty — who spends his days drinking too much sake and chopping wood with his katana. But he finds motivation to not just live but kill again in the form of Rin (Hana Sugisaki), a young woman who looks exactly like his dead sister, and is out to avenge the death of her family at the hands of a gang of ruthless, anti-samurai warriors known as the Itto-ryo, who are led by the charismatic and devastatingly handsome Anotsu (Sôta Fukushi — and yes, everyone in this movie is very, very good-looking).
Soon Manji has the entire Itto-ryo coming after him one by one — that’s the only type of combat they believe in — a parade of great villains, including a scarred beast in an iron mask, a fellow immortal, and a warrioress with preternatural leaping ability who takes on her enemies in a sexy purple kimono and heels. There’s a confusing subplot involving the Itto-ryo’s acceptance in society, and it’s probably 45 minutes too long, but you don’t come to a samurai bloodbath for plot. You come to watch the screen turn red, and to watch the many inventive ways people can die. In fact, we counted, and the movie showcases a whopping 28 different ways to die (including a few ways Manji almost dies, since everything that happens to him would kill someone else). Here they are, for your enjoyment.
1. Gutted by sword.
2. Impaled in heart by sword.
3. Slashed across the chest diagonally by sword.
4. Beheaded by sword.
5. Stabbed through eye by sword.
6. Cleaved in two by sword, at the waist.
7. Cleaved in two by sword, head to toe.
8. Torn apart by chain wielded by very evil dude in mohawk and tattoos.
9. Torn apart by very huge double-bladed sword where one blade is like a hook that rips open your jugular, that is also attached to chain.
10. Shot by your own arrows.
11. Shuriken. (Throwing star.)
12. Flying spear.
13. Flying spear attached to chain.
14. Ten knives thrown at once.
15. Falling off a building.
16. Being thrown off a building.
18. Falling off a cliff.
19. Beheaded by saw-toothed sword (very messy).
20. Slashed in half by super-awesome sword where the handles attach to become one longer, double sword.
21. Getting smashed in the face with an axe the size of an anvil.
23. Being stabbed in the torso with seven swords at once and then pulling them out one sickening suction sound at a time because you’re immortal, for now.
24. Bleeding to death because one or more of your limbs has been cut off.
25. All of your limbs falling off at once.
26. Chopping off your own hand because it’s been impaled by a flying metal weapon attached to a rope and you’re being dragged up a tree by it.
27. Getting impaled by the sharpened, exposed bones in the arm-stump of an enemy whose hand you cut off.
28. Boring ol’ seppuku.