‘Zatôichi’ is Takeshi Kitano’s best

Takeshi Kitano in 'Zatôichi'
Takeshi Kitano in ‘Zatôichi’

Zatôichi… aka The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi is a new vision of Akira Kurasowa’s feudal-Japan, samurai films with a little of Chicago or Moulin Rouge thrown into the mixture. Zatôichi is the story of an older swordsman who arrives in a small Japanese village overrun by opposing Samurai gangs fighting for control of the village at the same time that a pair of geisha girls comes to the town seeking revenge for the death of their family.

Zatoichi emerges as a big change from Kitano’s other works in that there is a departure from what is normally a very strong sense of reality in his films like Brother or Fireworks. This altered reality is most strongly seen in the use of digitally generated blood during the fight scenes but also carries through to a dance sequence at the end of the film. Zatoichi also marks a change in filmmaking for Kitano with the use of shorter, quicker shots instead of the longer, precisely framed moments that his previous films capture. Kitano places more concentration on the action of the fight sequences, drawing forth a real sense of physical destruction.

Although the blood and violence in the film is extreme and surreal, it is not unreal or what one might see in many of today’s Hong Kong action films with wire-work depicting supernatural abilities. The action sequences are almost hyper-real and gives the film an interesting point of view, almost from within the fighting itself, many times from the back or over the shoulder of the center character.

All of these aspects of the film allow for a folktale portrayal of the main characters with a minimal character history being told through flashbacks, giving the characters a dimension of mythical proportion without portraying them in a godlike vision.

I have seen several films directed by Takeshi Kitano and would even consider myself a fan of his work but I was very surprised to find out that he had done a period piece and even more surprised to see the final product. I would not say that this is one of my favorite Kitano films but virtually anything he does is a strong departure from the mainstream movie making that can be seen everywhere. In the case of Zatoichi, this film is even a strong leap in filmmaking and experimentation for Kitano.

After watching this DVD, I was inspired to do a little research on the title and found that there have been several films and even a series made about the main character, The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi. Based on Kitano’s version, I would be more than willing to give these others a shot.

As for the DVD, the visual and sound quality is up to par but the supplemental material, interviews and documentary are pretty much accolades and information that many already know about Kitano, a man who has become a legendary figure in Japan and a great filmmaker.

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