Set in feudal Japan, Manji (Kimura) is a master swordsman wracked with guilt for failing to save his sister from mercenaries. Given immortal powers by a roaming witch, loner Manji, one-eyed and battle-scarred, is convinced by a young girl Rin (Sugisaki) to help her hunt down and slay the Itto-ryu, a vicious gang of samurai headed up by the unstoppable Anotsu (Fukushi) who killed her parents. But Manji's immortal powers begin to wane and the pain of each wound takes its toll…
Samurai movies are back in vogue but Takashi Miike's quazillionth film doesn't bring anything new to the table. In fact, Miike seems only interested here in reheating the manic and bloody final sequence of his fun 13 Assassins and let that run for over two hours. To hell with an engaging story or characters with depth; all dialogue and backstory here serve to only link one fight to the next. As Manji and Rin move about the countryside they accidentally happen across various members of the Itto-ryu who are duly dispatched. There's no hunting or tracking involved: Manji and Rin just bump into them walking along the path or drinking in a tavern.
There’s little invention to be found - a revenge mission in a samurai film? That's thinking outside the box – and the villain's motivation (to unite all the samurai schools under his own specific style) is a bit meh. Miike doesn't care and goes about adding even more villains to the pot: the shadowy government official and his army, Shira (Hayato Ichihara) and his band of mercenaries who are at first friends, then enemies. Then there's the female assassin (Chiaki Kuriyama) who appears out of nowhere for a scrap and leaves just as abruptly, only to turn up again later. The climactic fight has nothing new to offer that the opening sequence, and every fight scene sandwiched in between, didn’t do already.
The prolific director's biggest mistake is not allowing Rin be the hero. An adaptation of a manga novel it may be but Blade of the Immortal is her story - she's the one driven by revenge, she's the one learning to use the sword - but Miike sidelines her to concentrate on Manji, who has an unimaginative and obvious arc: He finds a reason to live just as he's beginning to die.
But if sword-slashing violence is what one wants, sword-slashing violence one will get. The opening sequence is shot in black and white, which might disappoint the bloodlust of the samurai film fan, but Miike soon turns to colour and offers up many a splattered body and severed limb. Miike does raise some interesting ideas – like the psychological impact of killing – and some cool visuals – like Manji’s wounds and scars bursting open – but there's little here to get in a dizzy about.