Zatoichi (座頭市) Made in: Japan Language: Japanese Director: Takeshi Kitano Starring: Takeshi Kitano, Tadanobu Asano, Gadarukanaru Taka, Yuuko Daike, Daigorô Tachibana, Ittoku Kishibe, Saburo Ishikura, Akira Emoto, Ben Hiura, Michiyo Ookusu Year: 2003
Synopsis: Director Takeshi Kitano also stars in this adaptation of the classic Japanese character. In this version, Zatoichi is an old masseur. He's blind, unassuming, and what most people don't realize is that he's a samurai master with senses and reflexes that a Marvel comic book super hero would envy!
The blind swordsman wanders into a town that's overrun by two brutal yakuza bosses. The townsfolk live in constant terror, and the outrageous protection fees they're forced to pay makes socialism look like a picnic.
As Zatoichi takes temporary refuge at the home of a friendly old lady named Oume (Michiyo Ookusu), another deadly samurai named Hattori Genosuke (Tadanobu Asano) arrives. He's a ronin (a fancy term for unemployed samurai), and seeks to earn money as a yakuza bodyguard so he can help his ailing wife. One of the town's feared bosses, Inosuke Ginzo (Ittoku Kishibe), takes Genosuke up on his offer.
Soon Genosuke is sent out as the yakuza's leading hatchet-man, where he literally slices and dices the heck out of all competing gangs. This allows Ginzo and his ally Ogi (Saburo Ishikura), another crime boss, to take control of the town.
And while all that is going on, Okinu Naruto (Yuuko Daike) and her brother Osei (Daigorô Tachibana) are secretly plotting to kill Boss Ginzo. Years ago, Ginzo raided their home and slaughtered their entire family. The siblings disguise themselves as a pair of Geisha ladies, even though Osei is a man (and he rather enjoys cross-dressing). And they also have their creative ways of doing away with bad guys.
While having fun with some leisurely gambling, Zatoichi befriends Shinkichi, Ooume's bumbling but well-meaning nephew. Together, they cross paths with the Naruto "sisters," and the blind samurai finds himself in the role of vigilante crime-fighter. As the inevitable showdown between him and Genosuke draws near, he also begins figuring out who the ultimate villains in the town really are...
The Good: Seeing Takeshi Kitano and Tadanobu Asano on screen together is a cinematic treat, as both are highly regarded in international film. Asano, as you may know, played the role of young Ghengis Khan in the highly acclaimed film,
With elaborate set design, costumes, and beautiful cinematography, Zatoichi has a very authentic look. Had it been filmed in black and white, it might easily be mistaken for a classic Japanese film at first glance.It's very clear that Takeshi Kitano studied Kurosawa, as many of his shot compositions are similar.
Full of cinematic homages, this movie respects the many samurai films that came before it while incorporating a number of artistic liberties (such as innovative fight choreography, digital effects, and some traces of electronic music).
The action is stylized, and the pacing during the first half is excellent. The inclusion of the famous tap dancing troupe The Stripes in several scenes was very imaginative and entertaining as well.
The Bad: The final song/dance number near the end was a little overboard, and the digital effects looked hokey in parts. The pacing during the second half becomes more uneven compared to the first, and the character arc of Tadanobu Asano feels incomplete. It was built up as an intriguing subplot surrounding his history and his wife's health, but is cut short once the Geishas come into the story.
Who would like this movie: If you're a fan of foreign films, and if you enjoy the artistic sensibilities of a Kurosawa film but would secretly rather not put up with the slow pace (because YOU WANT TO SEE SOME COOL SAMURAI FIGHTING!), then Zatoichi is for you. In other words, this is largely a movie for those who are curious about art films but don't want to be bored by them.