“I’ve seen ages come and go.” In Takashi Miike’s Blade of the Immortal, men live forever and grudges do too. Children avenge their parents. Brothers avenge their sisters. And men take revenge on the grandchildren of those who wronged their grandparents. An unending cycle of violence that reverberates through generations. Rin, a young girl whose parents are killed by a marauding clan of violent swordsmen, searches for a supposedly immortal warrior, Manji, to help her in her quest to avenge them. Eternal life is a curse. He can only dwell on his endless history: the murder of his sister and the hundred men he killed to avenge her. He’s the past, the present, and the future; an undying symbol of a stagnant age of eye-for-an-eye violence, the damage of which can only be viewed in retrospect and is doomed to ceaselessly repeat itself. And so it does. These swordsmen, attempting to overwrite all traditional values in Japan with their modern philosophies and destroy anyone who stands in their way, believe in fighting one on one, presenting a succession of tiring and tiresome enemies for Manji to overcome, his immortality rendering them all meaningless. There are no consequences for him. There’s no mortality. No winning, no losing. Just the gruelling and endless trudge of battle as a vessel for a young girl’s revenge, and a longing for a death that can never come. And when an opportunity for revenge arises, she’s not the only one seeking it — so then what? Ages come and go. Nothing changes. The only conclusion for a society governed by a code of vengeance is total annihilation. A pile of bodies. A river of blood.
In Robin Campillo’s 120 Beats Per Minute, the Seine is blood-red and flows endlessly through Paris. The AIDS epidemic is at its peak, and activist group ACT UP are fighting for greater societal, political and medical understanding and investment in the disease, its causes, and the urgent need for treatment. Campillo, a self-proclaimed “ACT UP militant” in the 1990s, takes us to the heart of the organisation, showing us everything. The weekly meetings held in a nondescript lecture hall, in which any orders of business relating to the group, be it the media reaction to past acts, the planning of future ones, developing slogans to best communicate their messages, or testimonials to members who have died, are discussed, heard, debated and analysed in detail. The actions themselves, like storming the offices of a pharmaceutical company to cover the walls in fake blood, performing at pride festivals, and handing out condoms and safe-sex leaflets in schools. And people’s lives: living, loving, being in love, and the devastating impact of this disease on these lives and on all the lives we don’t see. People are dying from this epidemic and nobody with the power to do anything about it seems to care. “Our friends are dying. We don’t want to die too.” An urgent and vital fight for life. It’s too late for some but they fight anyway. Life is worth fighting for. “Parade my body through the streets.” A man dies and his ashes are wielded as a political weapon. Make them notice. Make them care. Be visible. Fight for life and the river will run blue again. We’re dancing. We’re alive.