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Zatôichi Review


Excellent
Seated at a gambling table with his head tilted downward in silent, intense concentration, Zatôichi, a 19th-century blind Japanese nomad enjoying a game of dice, listens closely to the two white cubes clank against one another inside a wooden cup. Suddenly, the sound of the dice changes. The men, Zatôichi recognizes, are trying to cheat him. He looks up, his eyes closed but his face nonetheless stern, and without warning unsheathes his gleaming cane sword and begins to hack and slash his way through the gaming establishment's samurai warriors. When the melee is over, only a pile of bodies remains in Zatôichi's wake. If Zatôichi, Takeshi "Beat" Kitano's period piece featuring the classic Japanese superhero, teaches us anything, it's not to mess with the handicapped.

Zatôichi, the hero of 26 feature films and a long-running television series in his native Japan, was a wandering masseur, gambler, and warrior (played by Shintaro Katsu from 1962 to 1989) who fought for the rights of the downtrodden working-class man against villainous crime lords and land barons. In this reinterpretation of the Japanese icon, director Kitano plays Zatôichi with blond hair and a red cane (which houses his ferocious blade), and reimagines the friendly samurai as a dour, remote hero prone to isolate himself in meditative silences. While Kitano retains the character's impish chuckle and sympathy for the countryside's maligned outcasts, his Zatôichi substitutes Katsu's balletic gracefulness with a swift physicality. This new Zatôichi is a viper coiled to strike with tornado-like ferocity at any moment, and in his silent-but-deadly manner, the character more than slightly resembles the gun-toting yakuza madmen of Kitano's Sonatine and Brother.

Continue reading: Zatôichi Review

THE BLIND SWORDSMAN: ZATOICHI Review


OK

The master Japanese filmmaker Takeshi Kitano made his reputation in the United States with his violent, whisper-to-a-scream gangster films like "Sonatine," "Fireworks" and "Brother." His most dedicated fans also know about his softer side, shown in warm, almost sentimental works such as "A Scene at the Sea," "Kids Return," "Kikujiro" and the extraordinary "Dolls," which has yet to secure a distributor here.

None of this prepares us for "The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi." Even if you've seen some of the classic 1960s-era Japanese films (many of which are available on DVD) about a blind masseuse and accomplished swordsman, you're at a disadvantage.

Based loosely on the novels by Kan Shimozawa as well as the original films, "The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi" begins normally enough. The rock-steady, stoic actor Kitano (known in an acting capacity as "Beat" Takeshi) appears as the bleach-blond title character, eyes glued shut, head cocked to one side as if to listen to the world. He's taunted by a band of would-be robbers and he vanquishes them with very little effort, barely registering a hint of an expression.

Continue reading: THE BLIND SWORDSMAN: ZATOICHI Review

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