Zatoichi – a name among Japanese martial arts films which has a long history – more than 25 movies and a TV series, he’s been a big player in the industry since the early 60’s. This review is of the movie titled ‘Zatoichi’ from 2003 and is a larger budget revival of the classic films.
It has a very straight forward premise, Zatoichi is a wandering Masuse with a twist – he’s a precise and extremely skilled unmatchewd swordsman who is as blind as a bat. He enters a town that is under the control of gangs during a Yakuza gang war set in the Edo period of Japan.
Zatoichi makes his way into town, and doesn’t get up to much. He becomes friends with a local woman and tries to help out her nephew who has a major gambling problem. During his time there he meets a couple of geisha siblings (geisha being a Japanese performing artist), who just happen to try to rob him, but he catches on to their scheme before it takes place, and becomes friends with them as well.
We learn the the two geisha, one being a male disguised as a woman, are out for revenge since 10 years ago when their entire family was murdered by one of the clans. Then as trouble starts to brew the gangs start looking for Zatoichi as he gets caught up in it all and he works to kill off the two gangs and release the town of their control.
Lots of ‘stuff’ going on.
This movie is character and story driven, and more of a drama than an action film (in a big way). Every character has their story, some we learn later and some earlier.
One which I haven’t touched on in particular is a Ronin named Hattori Gennosuke. His wife is sick and he is forced to work as a bodyguard, killing in order to create an income for help his wife get better. To some degree we’re shown just a normal man doing what is necessary and using his skill in order to get ahead. He is a seemingly unbeatable swordsman, and sides with one of the clans and becomes the main ‘bad guy’ fighter you start counting down to see fight Zatoichi.
With the great level of character insight given to Hattori, it’s surprising just how everythign ends – very abruptly. He is killed in seconds by Zatoichi and his wife commits suicide – pretty sudden and a bit of an anti climax.
Ultimately this movie simply tells a lot of individual stories, showcasing little tiny details to get you to know the character better until all of the paths seem to converge. Great if you’re into the craft of film making and storytelling, but it really doesn’t do much to support this as an action film – I don’t think it should be as high as it is on ‘the list’.
The movie seems to be more about the craft of revealing each of the characters lives and basically has a very slow pace as the events of the movie unfold very slowly. Expecting a hard hitting swordplay film – I was bored shitless. But then again I’ve never seen any Zatoichi movies before this one.
The Action / Martial Arts
A heavily samurai themed movie – the Samurai sword is the weapon of choice – every character is focused on sword work and losing the sword basically meant death in this film – you can’t fight empty handed against a samurai!
The sword work was performed very well, although a little choppy. Fast cuts (film cuts – not sword cuts!) showcased each strike with it’s cutting (yes sword cutting!) precision and really sold the vicious and other worldly skill of Zatoichi and also Hattori. My main complaint is the overuse of CGI with each sword strike.
I don’t usually comment on CGI – most martial arts movie fans aren’t a fan of it but it is required in a movie where the shots need to show someone getting a sword stabbed right through them – so fair enough. But it looked incredibly fake, and often the position of the blade didn’t match the movement of the person it was attached to, plus the lighting gave off a really fake ‘artificial’ look to each effect. It was disappointing.
The action is over with quick, few and far between with the best being saved for last – the best is pretty standard. Nothing to rave about.
Nice movie, well made with a very insightful at each character that isn’t too over the top. But this is an Martial Arts Movie review website so I’d have to say that if you’re looking for action, pop this back on the shelf.
On Blu Ray –
Region A (US & Canada)
Region B (UK, Australia, New Zealand, Europe etc)
On DVD –
Region 1 (US & Canada)
Zatoichi on DVD
Region 2 (UK, Europe, etc)
Zatoichi on DVD
Region 4 (Australia, New Zealand, etc)
Zatoichi on DVD