19th century Japan: Zatoichi (Takeshi Kitano), the blind masseur &
master swordsman, arrives at a village plagued by gangwars &
protection money rackets. Wanting nothing but to be left in peace &
to do some gambling as a pastime (he always wins, he soon finds shelter
at the house of a poor farmwoman whonm he helped, & soon finds
associates in form of a somewhat dim-witted gambler and 2 geishas (one
of them actually a man in disguise) wanting to avenge the murder of
their parents. But he also finds a mortal enemy in form of ronin
Tadanobu Asano, the only swordsman with fighting skills matching his
own, & is thus sucked into the turfwars of the city - a war which he
in the end of course wins, slaying almost anybody remotely associated with the
fighting gangs, & of course ronin Tadanobu Asano, too. The avenging geishas
also get their revenge, by the way.
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As the director of this retelling of the Zatoichi saga is
Takeshi Kitano, it is of course every bit as bloody as you would expect
from a Japanese Chambara-movie, but Kitano would also show his cinematic
eye with some beautifully shot & choreographed scenes (& I don't
mean the fight scenes, which are rather standard), culminating in a big
musical number (!) in the end. Also, Kitano's other career as
a comedian would shine through in some great nonsense scenes ever
so often interrupting the rather somber onscreen goings-on.
For the actor Kitano, Zatoichi rather seems a logical continuation of
much of the characters he portrayed in his earlier movies, who were very
often stoic & violent lone wolf characters in the first place - even
though shades of legendary Zatoichi-series
starring Shintaro Katsu (playing the
character in 25 movies from 1962 to 1973, a tv-series & a revival movie in 1988,
directed by himself) are shining through.
In all, despite travelling much-treaded grounds, a great auteur-movie from Takeshi Kitano (although his
trademark seaside-scenes are completely absent here), & an ironic
but not insulting look at chambara-cinema. Zatoichi-purists will
love to hate this movie though !