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.
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