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Japan 2003
Directed by
Takeshi Kitano
116 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

Although perhaps disappointing fans of the pure, off-beat yakuza-style Takeshi Kitano, this cult director's take on an icon of 1960s and '70s (26 films in all) Japanese pulp cinema known as chambara, and specifically the blind masseur and master swordsman Zatôichi, is skilfully-crafted genre entertainment that despite the gratuitous violence shows invention and control.

Kitano plays Zatôichi, an itinerant masseur who arrives in a small rural town run by a gang of villains led by Ginzo (Ittoke Kishibe, who previous played a yakuza boss in Takeshi's Violent Cop,1989) who has hired a ronin, Hattori (Tadanobu Asano), as his bodyguard. While there Zatôichi's path crosses that of Okinu and Osei, a pair of beautiful sisters whose family were murdered by Ginzo and his associates ten years earlier and who are bent on revenge.

Most Westerners will be familiar with at least some of Kurosawa's comparable samurai films that are set more or less in the same period and although Zatôichi is by no means a lesser affair, it has a decidedly more contemporary, purely cinematic feel to it with the use of flashbacks, jump-cut editing and some stunning imagery as well as a lot of the choreographed blood-spraying sword-play that Quentin Tarantino indulged himself in with Kill Bill (which was released the same year), Kitano capping his film off with a completely unmotivated but wonderful contemporary Stomp-style dance finale featuring the film's cast.




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