July 22, 2004

The Blind Swordsman: ZATOICHI- -A Movie Review

The Dirty Harry Senior Citizen of Japan Crushes A Bevy of Bad Guys
By Fred H. Arm
Take a blind, aging, shuffling masseur in 19th century Japan who still possesses incredible and deadly precision and match him against several gangs of bad guys and ex-Samurais and voila, you have a mixed bag of comedy and a series of blood baths. The Japanese auteur Takeshi Kitano, director of such masterpieces as “Fireworks” and “Sonatine”, embraces the iconic character of Japan’s longest-running and best-loved film series, “The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi” as the lead actor and the director.

Best known for his gripping Yakuza gangster films and as a famous comedian, Kitano has laid down his guns and taken up the keen edge of the Samurai sword, slicing and dicing the bad guys in Shakespearean quantities. This white-haired, shuffling and bowlegged masseur masquerades as a harmless old man, however quickly dispatches the villains with lightening speed without remorse or hesitation.

This film is distinctly an oddity. It combines awesome and mesmerizing swordplay, corny humor, wonderfully choreographed and delightfully performed Japanese dances, cross-dressing, a creative glimpse into classical Japanese culture, combined with captivating cinematography and spiced with one gore fest after the other. It is fascinating that the gore has such an innocent and comical quality to it that even the most squeamish of us would not take it too seriously

While wandering through villages earning his living as a masseur and using his unique senses to beat the gambling casinos all the while posing as a shuffling old man, it comes as a amusing surprise that he is a Samurai warrior without parallel. At the one village, he finds the mountain people there at the mercy of Ginzo, a ruthless gang leader. Typical of such gangsters, Ginzo disposes of anyone in his way. Ginzo goes so far as to hire the out-of-work Samurai, Hattori (Tadanobu Asano), to annihilate a rival gang. After befriending a deadbeat gambler and breaking the bank in the primitive gambling hut, Zatoichi is forced to dispatch the entire gambling crew, who are also in Ginzo’s gang. He then meets the lovely Geisha brother-sister team who have come to town to avenge the killing of their parents at the hands of Ginzo.

The storyline is really not all that original, however the execution and style are fascinating to behold. Instead of six-gun justice, the swift and deadly swordplay emanating from the incongruous blind old man is sort of a delight in of itself. After a while, the spurting blood takes on a persona much like the old westerns where dozens of evil cowboys would clutch their chests and fall off their horses after being shot by the dude in the white hat. Interwoven in all this triteness, rises the unique Japanese culture, music and dance that trump all the violence. A captivating and absorbing saga that delivers a delightful variety and a symphony of beauty, culture, and humor.

Opens in San Francisco, in July 23.

Posted by fredarm at July 22, 2004 09:33 PM
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