Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi

Title: The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi (2003)
Dir: Takeshi "Beat" Kitano
Rating: *** out of 5 stars

This modern take on the legendary blind ronin Zatoichi is quirkier than I expected. As a result, I'm not really sure how I feel about it. It has got badass samurais, Beat Kitano, and Tadanobu Asano (see my Ichi the Killer review), so that alone earns it high marks. Still, an overabundance of computer-generated blood (grrrrrrrrr!!) and eccentric "wtf?" moments dragged the film down for me.

Zatoichi, a blind masseur/swordsman, has been the subject of many Japanese films. In this contemporary version, he finds himself in a town where the farmers live in fear of local gangs. Zatoichi (played by Kitano) ends up helping a pair of geishas avenge their family's murder while simulatenosly ridding the town of its gang problem. Meanwhile, the strongest gang hires a skilled ronin (Asano) to protect the boss and ultimately take on the sword-slinging masseur.

Without giving too much away, the ending is pretty anti-climactic. If you're like me and expect a kickass showdown between two dueling samurais, well, you'll be disappointed. To begin with, Kitano and Asano aren't even that badass here (though both are usually BAMF's). I don't know why, but they seemed watered down. The guys from Seven Samurai were a lot more hardcore, I thought. Especially Mr. "You Need a Gun? I'll Be Right Back". Now he was badass.

But anyway, back to THIS movie...all the blood (and there was a lot) was CG. By now you should know how much I HATE computer generated gore. I mean c'mon, Kill Bill looked more realistic than this!

As for the "wtf?" moments, let's just say this samurai tale includes a tap-dancing musical number. Yes, that's right. Perhaps it was intented for cheese, but I just felt like I was watching Rogers and Hammerstein's Zatoichi!

I know I'm ragging on the film really harshly, but don't get me wrong, it's not a bad movie. It has some genuinely fun moments and I liked the cast. Some parts are quite funny, too. I can see why some people would love this movie, but I just couldn't get into it. It doesn't seem like Kitano's usual fare, which is cool, but just don't expect heavy, realistic violence. I can't recommend it highly, but if you like the people involved or would like to see a light-hearted samurai film (there aren't many), then you might wanna check it out.