Japan | 110 MINUTES | Japanese |
The words "deadly" "blind" "masseur" may not appear to go well together, especially when combined with "swordfighting," but from the 1960's through the 1980's the object of that descriptor ruled Japan's cinemas. As portrayed by actor Shintaro Katsu in 26 films, Zatoichi was a blind masseur whose walking cane concealed a deadly sword and whose loner mystique masked his sympathy for the oppressed. The iconic character re-emerges in this entertaining and idiosyncratic 2004 interpretation, complete with a platinum blonde haircut, a transgendered prostitute friend, and a tap-dancing performance art troupe. Now played by director "Beat" Takeshi Kitano, Zatoichi wanders into a town ruled by power-hungry overlords. Taking refuge with a kindly peasant woman and her slackjawed nephew, he attracts the attention of two deadly geishas, who are looking for the people who slaughtered their family, and a silent samurai, who's taken up with the gang leaders to earn money for his dying wife. Outcasts all, their lives are fated to intersect in a flurry of flashing steel and enough spurting blood to turn Tarantino green with envy. "With Zatoichi, what you see is what you get," writes Kitano of this old-fashioned crowd-pleaser, but the film is far more than spinning swords and geysers of gushing plasma. Featuring costumes by famed designer Yohji Yamada, choreography by the performance troupe The Stripes, and Kitano's usual warped approach to comedy, Zatoichi takes us beyond the sword-opera genre into the realm of pure visual spectacle.