Review: ‘Zatoichi’

Who knew every member of this small village in Japan was actually a professional dancer?

Zatoichi (writer & director Takeshi Kitano) is a blind swordsman that occasionally rights wrongs done to him and others. Under the guise of a masseur, he enters a town where gambling rules whatever the street gangs do not, but others in town are looking to settle scores or sell their services to the highest bidder. When all their paths finally cross, only one thing is certain: four farmers with an amazing ability to work in time to the film’s score.

I’ve been informed by my resident guru of all things Kung Fu theater that there have been almost thirty Zatoichi films. The character himself has apparently done it all, but the same actor who played the sightless swordsman in all those films passed away in the late 1990’s. This new film is the director’s relaunch of the franchise with himself cast as the title character, and it’s getting a limited US release.

As an action film, the director spends equal time getting laughs as he does taking heads, so the story is bound to go any way at any time. When it’s time for someone to die, there’s little swordplay before someone dies; fake blood has been almost replaced by video-game quality CGI, so arterial spray is frequent but gore is almost nonexistent. Death scenes are very serious, but always followed by something amusing; when all else fails, a dance troupe called The Stripes steps in and does something fill the void (tending a rice field in rhythm or constructing a home where all the tools become percussion instruments).

Nothing is sacred, from cross-dressing to child molesting; the script and director just paints everything as “part of life” and moves on instead of dwelling on it. Amazingly, the film is completely watchable (even in subtitles) and is never boring, even during the end credits when the entire village (those that live to the end, that is) joins The Stripes for a decidedly nontraditional dance sequence that looks more Bollywood-inspired than anything else. Not having seen any previous Zatoichi films, I can’t say it wasn’t entertaining but neither is it for the faint of heart.

(a two and a half skull recommendation out of four)

Speak up, Mortal -- and beware of Spoilers!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s