Zatoichi — The Blind Swordsman

The story of Zatoichi has been around in Japanese movies and TV for a while. I saw this latest remake recently — it is a lot of fun, especially if you consider artistic, cinematic dismemberment to be fun. The director Takeshi Kitano said he wanted the blood in this film to “look like flowers blossoming across the screen”. It does have a certain unearthly quality that makes it quite mesmerising. And a good thing too, because there is a lot of blood in this film.

The sound is outstanding, particularly in the scenes where workers digging in a field or building a house spontaneously create a kind of rhythmic sound sculpture. I laughed.

Zatoichi poster

Beat Takeshi, as Zatoichi the blind swordsman, is excellent. He is inscrutable, quiet, reserved — even amusing at times. But spectacularly lethal with that sword, or even without it. This made quite a change from how I have seen him before, as an easygoing funnyman on Japanese TV shows.

Reading about about this film later, I was amazed to discover that Beat Takeshi the TV personality and actor and Takeshi Kitano the acclaimed director are actually the same person! Clearly I haven’t really been paying attention, despite having seen “Hana-bi”, the movie that really made his name internationally, a few years ago. Apparently he also paints, and writes criticism and novels.

The story itself is the usual revenge death cross-dressing gangster extravaganza, done very stylishly and amusingly. The climax is suitably tense, but the actual end of the film was very unexpected. Bizarre, in fact. Insane. But still very fun. It says it all that despite a body count that must have approached three figures, we all left the cinema with smiles on our faces.

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