Zatoichi (tbc)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner21/10/2003

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 116 mins

Extremely enjoyable period samurai drama, now with added tap-dancing - featuring lashings of gushing digital blood, this should satisfy anyone still hungering for Samurai Action after Kill Bill.

Actor-director Takeshi Kitano (also known as ‘Beat’ Takeshi) is a cult figure both in his native Japan and over here, thanks to movies such as Violent Cop, Sonatine and Boiling Point. He was most recently seen in Battle Royale and also appears in the sequel, which is showing at the London Film Festival in a late-night slot.

Blind Tap-Dancing Samurai

Kitano’s latest film, Zatoichi, represents a departure from his usual work, firstly in that it’s the first time the director has attempted a period piece and secondly because it’s also the first time he has taken on a story conceived by someone else – the character of Zatoichi was made famous by Shintano Katsu in a series of action films between 1962 and 1989.

However, Kitano has taken the basic character and made it indisputably his own – the result is a highly entertaining movie with a debt to both Kurosawa and…er…tap-dancing movies.

The film is set in 19th century Japan. Kitano stars as Zatoichi, a blind wanderer with a distinctive red cane and a shock of platinum blonde hair. Softly-spoken, he makes a living as a masseur and by gambling but his humble, shuffling façade masks a lightning-fast, deadly swordsman, just as his cane hides his sword.

When Zatoichi enters a remote mountain town he discovers that the Ginzo gang are extorting the townsfolk with the aid of a mighty samurai ronin, Hattori (Tadanobu Asano). Quickly making friends with talkative fellow gambler Shinkichi (Guadalcanal Taka), Zatoichi then meets two mysterious geishas (Daigoro Tachibana and Yuko Daike) who have sworn to avenge their parent’s deaths. As the Ginzo gang tighten their hold on the town, the stage is set for a violent and bloody confrontation…

Extremely Stylish And Hideously Violent

Zatoichi is an extremely stylish film – each action set-piece is a pure delight. There are gallons of blood on display, but as the blood is digitally created the effect is cartoonish rather than gory, since it never even seems to stain their clothes. The editing is also extremely inventive, particularly during the scene in which the geishas tell their story and Kitano cuts between the geishas dancing as children and as adults.

There’s a lot of humour in the film, too, in the inter-play between Zatoichi and the other characters but also in the percussion-based soundtrack, which hints at the glorious tap-dancing finale that closes the film. (So that’s where Tarantino went wrong – no tap-dancing number). Particularly amusing is The Field Of Musical Accompaniment, in which the workers’ various digging movements seem to ‘create’ the soundtrack as they work.

Kitano is superb as Zatoichi – he’s such a great character that it’s a shame there won’t be any other Zatoichi movies. The supporting cast are good too and there are several memorable scenes.

In short, Zatoichi is a huge amount of fun, coupling terrific action scenes with humour and well-written characters. Highly recommended.

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Zatoichi (tbc)
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Content updated: 17/10/2017 00:37

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