In Japan the blind swordsman Zatoichi is legendary, his films having been reworked, reimagined and remade for decades. It’s funny that while it seems every second Japanese film has been or will be reworked into English for an American audience, the only films the Japanese bother to remake, reimagine and rework are their own.
What does that really say about American cinema? (By the way they’ve already had a crack at this in the 1980s with the under-rated Rutger Hauer B movie Blind Fury.)
This version is made by, and stars, Takeshi Kitano as the titular swordsman. In this version he is not only blind but a drunken, old gambling masseuse. While Zatoichi is famed for his unique abilities with the sword, no-one knows it is he. Until he whips it out that is…
When Zatoichi wanders into a small town he quickly learns that a corrupt and violent gang is running things here, mainly though protection rackets, where the protection is mainly from the gang itself.
Zatoichi wants no part of this, and he finds shelter with an old woman on the outskirts of the town, appearing meek, vulnerable and a little simple.
During the film Zatoichi comes across many unique characters, a retarded fat naked wannabe Samurai, a wandering ronin (jobless mercenary) and siblings seeking vengeance who wander the land in geisha attire looking for their target.
As the film progresses it becomes clear that Big Z can’t stay on the sidelines forever, eventually he has no choice but to take a knee… or clean up the town himself.
I love Takeshi Kitano – Brother is one of the better films of the last decade – but this is a strange film. For lengthy periods it reminds me of an episode of Monkey, all bad guys menacing the innocent and pure without much action, but then there are sudden bursts of action. But it is the action that is the odd part, the swordplay inevitably leads to gushes of blood flashing across the screen, only it is obviously computer generated and stands out like dog’s balls. It is said that Takeshi deliberately made the blood fake looking so as to dull the impact of the violence. If so bad decision. Why have everything else authentic and then drag the viewer away with shoddy CGI?
The other oddity is the musical sequences that bookend the film, in the first few minutes it can be written off as quirky stuff, but to end the film with a full blown dance sequence involving most of the cast is bananas. The 40 Year Old Virgin did a similar thing with The Age of Aquarius bit, however that was a silly (yet still brilliant) comedy, not a mostly authentic period action drama.
Final Rating – 6.5 / 10. I still love Takeshi Kitano. But this isn’t one of his best.