Quarter Life Crisis

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Zatoichi

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After having seen Dolls Chiho recommended that I should also go and see Zatoichi [IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, UK Official, Japan Official, Wikipedia], the latest offering by Takeshi Kitano. That was a bit hard to achieve as the film wasn't on in Germany at the time and nobody had even heard of it. My venturing across file sharing networks wasn't too successful either as the copies I found were in Japanese only. As luck would have it, I got hold of the film last week - just when it started to run in cinema here after all. So I went to see it in cinema instead.

The story is about a blind samurai, Zatoichi - played by Takeshi Kitano with bleached hair - who gets by as a masseur and gambler (according to the dictionary zato (座頭) can mean both blind man and masseur in Japanese – and the same letters but pronounced zagashira can mean 'leader of a troupe' which might explain the dancing), hiding his proficiency with the sword. His successes in both fighting and gambling are based on the alertness on his remaining senses which server him rather well. Arriving at a small village he gets to know the local 'mafia' and ends up killing all the bad guys. On the way there we see quite a bit of sword fighting, complete with splashing blood and victims who look 'more dead' than in other films. Only few limbs are removed and most people are slain quickly an unspectacularly.

Still, those scenes are quite intense, with Zatoichi always looking as if he is in pain when drawing his sword, which doubles as a cane, and slaying his opponents. Everything is beautifully filmed once more and I found the film looking quite 'light'. Despite being gory, the fighting never looked grave and certain scenes were very rhythmic. In fact, at a few stages the film looked a bit like a musical: Peasants plowing in the rhythm of some electronic blips and beats being played, the rain joining into that rhythm when the beat reappeared and finally the whole film ending in a big stomping and tap-dancing scene the purpose of which isn't clear to me.

You'll probably enjoy this film if you are into the whole Kill Bill thing. However, the emphasis on the fighting and its choreography isn't as strong in Zatoichi than it is in Kill Bill. The whole story seems to be well known in Japan, btw, and is set to play in past times (there must have been a TV series in the sixties on the topic).

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

July 2, 2004, 23:38

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