The Blind Swordsman: Zatôichi
The Blind Swordsman:
by Henry Edward Hardy
Zatôichi is a humble blind masseur who is also (of course) a master swordsman. He is no saint and enjoys the simple pleasures of gambling, sake and the company of women. But when bad guys want to do badness, watch out! He cuts them down in fine style.The film follows the familiar genre of a master swordsman who travels about in humble circumstances and has some extraordinary disability. In the excellent Lone Wolf and Cub manga and movies, it is a disgraced samurai with a young son he carries around on his back. The Hong-Kong One-Armed Swordsman films are naturally about a master swordsman with one arm.
The Zatôichi character was the subject of a popular TV show from 1974-1979. This latest Zatôichi film is approximately the 25th of that name. It is the first made by and starring Takeshi Kitano.Kitano’s swordsmanship is swift and decisive and his physical control excellent. There is no sword-clashing, flourishing back and forth here; when Ichi finally draws his cane sword he strikes like a cobra: decisive, ruthless and using the entire strength of his body behind the blade.
Only one opponent marks him; the tragic ronin character Hattori Genosuke (Tadanobu Asano). Genosuke is a noble samurai fallen on hard times who enlists as a “bodyguard” with the local yakuza gang in order to buy medicine for his consumptive wife O-shino (Yui Natsukawa).
Ichi falls in with two ruthless ‘geishas’. One of whom is really a man, who is the brother of the other geisha. They are seeking revenge against the yakuza clan, which destroyed their family. A great deal of camera time is devoted to the brother who is unambiguously devoted to living as a woman even when the bad guys have been eliminated.
Kitano used color to distinguish between the various factions, and to give the principal characters signature distinguishing features such as his yellow hair and red sword-cane. And there is blood. Geysers of blood. Fire-engine red bursts of rather badly done computer-graphic blood. If you don’t like to see vast effusions of obviously fake blood this might not be the movie for you.
But for fans of the period samurai film, or anyone looking for something offbeat and entertaining, Zatôichi is not the worst film one could see.
Zatoichi – A Takeshi Kitano Film http://www.zatoichi.co.uk/
Zatôichi (2003) (IMDB) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0363226/
Zatoichi (wikipedia) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zatoichi
The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi/Sonatine (2004) (Rotten Tomatoes) http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/blind_swordsman_zatoichi/
A version of this article appeared previously in Current Magazine and on Electric Current, http://eCurrent.com/
Copyright © 2006, 2007 Henry Edward Hardy