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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 Brian McKay

"Somewhere, Shintaro Katsu is smiling"
4 stars

Shintaro Katsu is the actor who made the character of Zatoichi a legend, breathing life into the role throughout a prolific franchise that lasted almost two decades and produced some 26 features. While almost all of those films (or at least the ones I have seen) recycled the same basic themes, they always boasted a strong blend of comedy, pathos, and action that helped them rise far above their roots of generic sameness. I don't think anyone will ever be able to recreate the heart and soul that Shintaro Katsu brought to the role - but Takeshi Kitano has come damn close to capturing everything that fans love about the Blind Swordsman

True to its predecessors, the film begins with the blind massuer and master swordsman Zatoichi (Takeshi, who also wrote, edited, and directed) wandering into a village and ultimately provoking the wrath of rival yakuza factions who are harassing the innocent townsfolk. He soon befriends a kindly older woman and her gambling-addicted neer-do-well nephew, and also takes up the cause of two geisha "sisters" who are out to avenge the death of their parents by a band of thieves which is now one of the dominant local yakuza gangs.

Meanwhile, a Ronin named Hattori (Tadanobu Asano), having fallen upon hard times, arrives in the village with a sick wife in tow. Prepared to do any dirty work necessary in order to get enough money to pay for his wife's medical care, he signs on as a bodyguard with the same gang of thieves that the sisters are seeking vengeance on.

Kitano firmly captures the essence of the original films. There's plenty of flashy swordplay, several random but highly effective bits of comedy, a few moments of tragedy, and most of the staples that one would come to expect from a Zatoichi film. Of course there are scenes in a gambling hall, with Ichi using his highly refined hearing and swordsmanship to reveal that the house is cheating (although cutting the croupier's arm off just for cheating seems a bit out of character). And naturally, Ichi and Hatorri will cross paths and nearly throw down a few times before the eventual showdown- although sadly neither Hattori nor his wife are developed deeply enough to impart a genuinely heartfelt sense of tragedy on their behalf.

But the film has some distinct Takeshi touches added as well - like an extended segment of Taiko-accompanied tap dancing which is a hell of a lot of fun to watch, even if it does seem oddly out of place. Also, he seems to be juggling one or two subplots too many at times, as supporting characters fade out of the narrative for long periods, and Zatoichi himself sometimes seems relegated to being just another supporting character, rather than the central focus of the film. One other slightly annoying aspect is the often ineffective use of CGI blood splatters and katana blades protruding through the bodies of enemies. While the action coreography is excellent, the blood splatters and impalements are off just enough to occasionally jerk the veiwer out of the scene. Supposedly, this was done intentionally by Takeshi to minimize the gory shock value while trying to keep the action itself as realistic as possible. But while I appreciate the attempt to imbue the film with some blood and gore, sometimes old techniques work the best - condoms filled with fake blood, and quick-edits to real blades sticking out of the back of someone's Kimono. Hell, even the old "sword blade under the armpit and viewed from the side" trick works better than fake CGI blades that always seem to protrude at just the wrong angle. Tarantino knew this when he made Kill Bill 1 (and then apparently forgot to even bother with it when he threw together Volume 2).

These small but nagging flaws aside, ZATOICHI is fun and engaging and, for the most part, a faithful recreation of the Blind Swordsman's mystique. Old fans should not be dissapointed, and new fans should do themselves a favor and seek out the source material post haste.

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originally posted: 07/26/04 13:47:29
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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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