General Tao award ribbon
Zatoichi
90
8
Story
8
Cast
10
Fun
10
Subs
9
Overall
JoE Shieh
March 14, 2004
Synopsis

A clan of thieves and scoundrels has put the inhabitants of a village in check. By enforcing a policy of intolerable cruelty and fear, the villagers are rendered poor and helpless against the cruel uprising of the Kuchinawa clan.

A wandering blind masseuse stumbles upon the village. This blind man is none other than the legendary Zatoichi. With a deadly walking stick at his side, he serves swift justice to the Kuchinawa clan. Along the way, he meets a compulsive gambler, two geishas who are more than what meets the eye, and a deadly mercenary; all contributing to yet another stunning tale of the blind swordsman, Zatoichi.

Scene from the movie Zatoichi (2003) - Review | KFCC
Scene from the movie Zatoichi (2003) - Review | KFCC
Scene from the movie Zatoichi (2003) - Review | KFCC
Scene from the movie Zatoichi (2003) - Review | KFCC
Review

I say Kitano, you say ‘Hana-bi.’ I say Kitano, you say ‘Sonatine.’ I say Kitano, you say ‘Brother.’ I say Kitano, everyone say ‘Zatoichi’.

When it comes to Takashi Kitano films, I’ve always been on the fence. A strong enough blow from any side could tip me over to either the “He’s over-rated!”-side or “The man’s pure genius”-side. ‘Hana-bi,’ to me, is the pinnacle of Kitano’s filmography. With its delicate blend of tranquility and turbulence, the film reformed the textbook definition of poetic violence in cinema. The films that followed were ‘Kikujiro,’ ‘Brother,’ and ‘Dolls.’ Each film had a brush of excellence, but also a damning factor which prevented it from the label as a masterpiece. Maybe Kitano wasn’t able to live up to the name he had made for himself. Maybe we were wrong about the man. Maybe he’s not all that he’s cracked up to be. If these thoughts went through your mind, then please take this moment to give yourself two smacks in the face.

‘Hana-bi’ beautifully merged peace and violence together and ‘Zatoichi’ does the exact same, but at a more epic scale. The costumes and sets that act as the playground for the cast are so painstakingly done to fit the traditional essence of the film that you could classify this film as a costume drama… but it’s so much more than that. Whereas ‘Hana-bi’ and ‘Kikujiro’ were targeted more at the art house critics and ‘Brother’ to the mainstream, ‘Zatoichi’ takes both sides on and delivers. It’s already hard enough for a film to both entertain a general audience and satisfy the art-house critics, but to do it so damn well just shows Kitano’s niche for filmmaking. In a cinematic time where swords were sacrificed for drama, Kitano delivers the emotional punch of drama, but also a satisfying slice of supreme violence. As for Kitano himself, he fits comfortably in the heavy shoes left by the legendary Shintaro Katsu. His take on the character of Zatoichi maintains an essence of the original character of the other 26 films, but also gives it a modern Kitano-spin.

The story is as basic as they come. A town is being harassed by a pack of scoundrels and the wandering swordsman walks in and cast vengeance harshly on the evil-doers. Both the protagonist and antagonist have their backgrounds fairly well fleshed out. You feel the pain and sorrow of the protagonists in trouble and lust for the death of the antagonists for causing such turmoil for the innocents. Also, there’s always that one right-hand man of the main boss with a stoic face and a sick skill in the way of the sword. Yes, in ‘Zatoichi’ there is one of those generic bodyguards. But what we don’t see in most films is the back story of this mercenary for hire. In the case of this movie, Tadanobu Asano’s character is only using his gift of terminating life for his ill wife. With his warrior’s honor and good intentions (well, mostly good), you feel for his character. In the end, he’s just an average Joe trying to make it in a crazy world. Every character is allocated a quick but adequate flashback sequence to shed light on their past, and that’s more than enough for the motives and intentions to be fully realized.

Oh how the violence caresses me.

Digital blood to me is usually a sure-shot factor to downplay an action scene, no matter how spectacular the choreography. But for some odd reason, the digital blood in ‘Zatoichi’ didn’t cast that effect on me. Yes, it’s very obvious the blood is digital, but it creates this strangely awesome force of symbiotic living with the very real movements of the human body. When it comes to digital blood, usually it’s kept to a minimum in its respective film. In this one, it’s everywhere, and my goodness is it glorious. I applaud Takashi Kitano for finding the equilibrium where digital blood can peacefully co-exist with up-close shots of frantic chaos without having the audience laugh at the CGI (and instead, make us gasp and gawk). Alas, amidst all the violence and drama, Kitano finds time to make us laugh pretty damn hard. The slapstick humor on ‘Zatoichi’ is turned on high. For example, in a scene that could’ve been an emotional-tour-de-force, you end up laughing at one of the villager’s reaction to the compulsive gambler’s antics.

Boasting an ambient and moody soundtrack, seasoned cast of actors, beautiful costumes and sets, spine-tingling violence, and furious choreography, ‘Zatoichi’ may very well be one of the few films that have reached cinematic perfection so closely. Takashi Kitano has once again cemented himself as a powerhouse international director. With an agenda to entertain, ‘Zatoichi’ should be sitting on the shelf of every film-enthusiast.

I say Kitano, everyone say ‘brilliant.’

Scene from the movie Zatoichi (2003) - Review | KFCC
Scene from the movie Zatoichi (2003) - Review | KFCC
Scene from the movie Zatoichi (2003) - Review | KFCC
Scene from the movie Zatoichi (2003) - Review | KFCC
90
Story
Cast
Entertainment
Subtitles
Overall
JoE Shieh March 14, 2004
Media Review
Media Review by
JoE Shieh
Distributor
Shochiku
Media Format
DVD
Region
Region 2
Encoding
NTSC

This is one of the reasons you bought that fancy all-region DVD player of yours. The video seems a bit soft (nothing that would hinder the viewing experience), but the sound is superb. The clean swipe of the blade is paired with the crisp SHING sound effect (not to mention a burst of bass to make you really feel the hurt). In your standard DVD set, you have your trailers and TV spots and one of those TV specials on the making-of the flick. If you shelled out your cash for the limited edition, you get another disc full of goodies. Bottom line: buy this DVD.