Director: Takeshi Kitano

(Japan| 2003. English subtitles. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 115 mins.)

Some 30 films have been made about the blind swordsman Zatoichi, and it proves to be a terrific new step for actor-director Takeshi Kitano (Hana-bi, Dolls). Here he plays Zatoichi himself, a grey-haired, blind masseur who wanders the streets of 19th century Japan catching people off guard with his expert sword skills. In this story he stumbles into the middle of a massive gang war in which two mob bosses lay waste to the competition with the help of the efficient ronin Hattori (Tadanobu Asano). Meanwhile two geishas, who a decade earlier escaped one of the gang’s bloody assaults, are out for revenge. They team up with Zatoichi and a bumbling local to take on the bad guys. Filming in the style of a 1960s Japanese samurai epic, Kitano gets the look and feel just right, augmenting the fight scenes with computer effects that heighten the grisliness (and blood spray). Kitano adds very witty touches, from hilarious sight gags and slapstick to choreographing onscreen action with the background music (including a muddy tap dance that, much later, becomes a full-on musical showstopper!). But this is a story about deceptive
appearances, and it works beautifully, giving us flashback histories and clever insights into each character. It all adds up to a layered and moving action movie. Kitano is very good in the title role of the mythical hero everyone underestimates; and as a writer-director he builds the film skilfully to the climactic showdown between Zatoichi and Hattori.

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