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Overall Rating

Awesome: 22.22%
Worth A Look43.06%
Average: 19.44%
Pretty Bad: 2.78%
Total Crap: 12.5%

7 reviews, 30 user ratings

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Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi, The
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by Erik Childress

"And You Thought Return Of The King Wouldn’t End?"
1 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2004 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: There’s such a reverence when film geeks talk about martial arts cinema that you would be best served to stay out of their line of fire if you even thought of blinking something negative. The genre has seeped into Western culture from Jackie Chan to Crouching Tiger and like everything, the great stuff pulls us in before we wake up to how even the playing field of crap actually is. Case and point: Takeshi Kitano’s updating/remake/reimagining of the blind swordsman series known as Zatoichi, which is everything a samurai movie shouldn’t be: boring, long, and trying to upstage Michael Flatley.

Go back several decades and one of Japan’s most beloved heroes was the blind samurai. From 1962 to 1989, Zatoichi was walking the land doing battle and avenging new acquaintances. 15 years later and the two most praise-worthy genre pieces in the U.S. are the silly Caucasians who like to play with samurai swords (Kill Bill & The Last Samurai). Zatoichi had history on its side and a blood-lovin’ director at its helm and if the opening scene doesn’t give even the most hardcore fans pause then their hero certainly isn’t the only one who’s blind.

The film is almost comically overplotted to the point of actually being plotless. Zatoichi (Beat Takeshi) is a masseur who like the great gunslingers inspires the occasional challenge from some ne’er-do-well who thinks he can best him. His latest David Banner-like stop involves a crime boss, his new ronin-for-hire with a sick wife, an unlucky gambler and a pair of conning-geisha sisters out for revenge who have one penis too many.

Having only seen a few chapters of the series on DVD, I can’t imagine fans latching their loyalty onto Kitano’s updating. What once was a storyline filled with honor, friendship and solid ass-kicking is now filled with sporadic action, unbelievably horrendous attempts at broad humor (save for one mis-choreographed human Whac-a-Mole moment) and musical interludes straight out of Stomp that was more cleverly used in Dancer in the Dark. Ask yourself why you’re walking out of a martial arts film on a five-minute Japanese Jig.

When you can’t do that, your mind will shift back to the action sequences, few-and-far between they are, and you will refocus your anger. Did squibs suddenly become incredibly expensive? Did someone forget to bring them? How do you allow your project to piss off the Gods of Action Cinema by using nothing but CGI on your swordplay? Every slash, swipe and stab is proceeded by splashes of red computer pixels so poorly rendered and conceived that you may consider the fake splooge in virtual porn DVDs more realistic.

One shouldn’t have to check their watch 25 minutes into a no-nonsense samurai time-waster, let alone check it an hour later to discover you’re only 30 minutes in. By the time the finale comes around, I was ready to pack it up and leave, until I realized there were four more finales, each increasingly coming so far out of left field they’re in the visitor’s park. Not to mention adding a late-inning twist that will have fans rolling then turning away their eyes before Kitano, with all the grace of Johnny from Airplane, says “just kidding.”

Zatoichi spills a lot of blood once you can get past a fat, screaming samurai-in-training, meandering revenge subplots and ten-minute geisha dances with flashbacks. And that’s hardly the chocolate you want with your peanut butter. Frustration turned into disgust as I watched the film before I began to think about the top two answers on the board of what most constitutes a movie walk-out. (1) excessive violence and (2) boredom. It’s the only 1-2 punch Kitano successfully connects with in Zatoichi. Lucky for him I’m not the sort who walks out of movies. Not so lucky for me.

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originally posted: 01/18/04 15:23:50
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Vancouver Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 CineVegas Film Festival. For more in the 2004 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Sydney Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Sydney Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Brisbane Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Brisbane Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Tribeca Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/09/14 Richard Brandt Almost defiles memory of the entire series but recovers from/with a last-minute stumble. 4 stars
1/23/09 Andrew M The first comment on this list is unbelievably crass and moronic. 1 stars
12/17/06 jovana that would be the "male" geisha... brlp...brpl... 5 stars
10/17/06 Ryan_A Couldn't get into it. Most likely the CGI blood... 3 stars
2/16/06 Reklc Amazing! 5 stars
10/10/05 Agent Sands One of Takeshi's best. Equal in extremes of gore and hilarity. 5 stars
9/08/05 Klondo funny and explosive and weird - the ending needs a rewrite 4 stars
7/19/05 Samurai Guy Stunk 2 stars
7/05/05 George Koebke Zatoichi belongs to Shintaro Katsu alone. This version is a total disparagement.. 2 stars
6/16/05 K. Sear The plot is pretty fragmented but the film is still enjoyable. 4 stars
5/09/05 JFK good movie, bad ending 4 stars
4/14/05 The Sorrow A must-have for the DVD collection 5 stars
4/07/05 matt beat takeshi's movies are as screwed up as his face after that motorcycle accident 1 stars
2/22/05 ALDO this is total this to princess blade....Now thats a good JAP film 1 stars
1/22/05 the Grinch Takeshi is a good actor, mediocre director, horrible editor. See Shogun Assasin instead 3 stars
8/13/04 Octo Ojeda A jewel, go and enjoy this movie. ***** 5 stars
8/04/04 pns brilliantly made movie, yeah the tap dancing ending was odd, still i loved it 5 stars
7/28/04 Rob Saw at AFFD and loved it. 5 stars
7/23/04 Jon Whats with the broadway tapdance ending? lol, good movie otherwise... 4 stars
7/14/04 Graham Jeez, I usually like Erik, but this review was way off-base. Mature, inventive, witty film 5 stars
7/09/04 Nikolai Since Freddy and Mr. Christ are finally dead Bonesetter is my true God ! 5 stars
7/01/04 Ingo An absolute must see - terriffic editing, score, players etc 5 stars
6/03/04 Takeshis Castle BEAT IS GOD. 5 stars
5/27/04 Dmg Terrible review, excellent movie, a must see 5 stars
4/14/04 Daveman The lack of originality is made up for by it's brilliant narrative and style. 4 stars
4/12/04 Wind it rocked! lots of fun. 5 stars
4/02/04 Eden The reviewer failed to review. He's Blind to theme. This is not Mr. Takeshi's fault. 4 stars
3/23/04 John O Bad Reviewer - And 'Last Samura'i "Awesome"? Laughable 5 stars
3/14/04 Gortum Filum If David Lynch, Ozu, Kurosawa and Miike made a movie together this would be it 5 stars
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  23-Jul-2004 (R)
  DVD: 09-Nov-2004



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