Thursday, April 30, 2015
The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi (2003)
Runtime: 1hr 56mins
Netflix, Google Play, Amazon Instant
The fictional, blind masseur/swordsman Zatoichi has graced the screen many times in Japan over the years. Not a samurai warrior, he used a shikomi-zue (cane sword) since all fighting blades were strictly outlawed for any non-samurai during the Edo period, which the story of Zatoichi is set. Kitano is a director/actor that I've mentioned fondly numerous times. He's one of the most underrated, underappreciated filmmakers of our time. He's a director capable of compelling gangster films, and funny, charming comedies. The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi is a very satisfying blend of these two types of film.
Akira Kurosawa's classic 1961 film Yojimbo, that inspired remakes such as Sergio Leone's 1964 Spaghetti Western, A Fistful of Dollars, and Walter Hill's 1996 gangster flick, starring Bruce Willis, Last Man Standing, serves as Kitano's inspiration here as well. He plays Zatoichi, a blind man wandering into a town to defend its citizens, who are struggling under the oppression of two warring yakuza clans (the crossover is appropriate considering the character of Zatoichi was featured in 1970's Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo).
Along the way they meet the Narutos, a pair of geisha siblings (one of whom is a man dressed like a girl). Their backstory tells of a gang that wiped out their entire family. Ever since, they've disguised themselves as geishas to entertain men long enough to rob them. They've also tracked down, and murdered, a number of the men that killed their family, but several still remain.
There's also a few twists and turns along the way to keep things interesting. It's clever, comical, even progressive (when you consider the male geisha that has lived his life as a woman). Kitano constructed the film with care for his art. Consider the rhythmic field workers, the depth of script, and quality choreography in the action sequences. The result was that Kitano won the prestigious Silver Lion for Best Director at the Venice Film Festival in 2003, and we get an entertaining film that blends genres surprisingly well.