Film Review: Zatoichi

(An old review of a cinema visit, to keep the Asian theme going.)

Takeshi Kitano, a multi-faceted actor/director/writer/presenter/artist, known for his aesthetically stylish but hyperviolent Japanese gangster films, makes a film about the original criminals and gangsters in Japanese history. Set in the time of the Shoguns, Kitano plays Zatoichi, a blind masseur who wanders from village to village, making a little money from gambling. Into one village he enters amidst turmoil within the ruling gangs, two secretive geishas with revenge on their mind, and a ronin (masterless samurai) who sells his services in order to pay to cure his sick but disapproving wife.

Zatoichi is a peerless swordsman, lightning fast and deadly, and inevitably gets drawn into the various stories. Kitano, with his hair dyed blond, keeps his eyes closed, grunting out responses, laughing to himself, his face sporadically clenching and twitching, as if listening with his whole head. The swordplay is the main attraction here, blades flashing and blood flowing in exquisite choreography, in a nod to Akira Kurosawa, who made the samurai film what it is, namely a Japanese western. The blood is CGI, as are the swords when they penetrate somebody, which is a little disconcerting, perhaps because we are so used to the computer wizardy in The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars, but it still looks dazzling.

The film is not all samurai duels, but contains moments of humour, tragedy, introspection and even, bizarrely, a tap dance, and Kitano takes his time in setting up all the stories, as well as allowing moments to pause and allow a certain aspect some time to blossom. It is a very rewarding and satisfying way to enjoy two hours in the dark, and it is easy to understand why there were so many films and a TV series of the same character in Japan back in the ’60s and ’70s. With Kill Bill and The Last Samurai as well, the samurai film is truly back in fashion.

Rating: DAVE

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