> Volume 6 > Number 29


Takeshi Kitano

Beat Takeshi
Tadanobu Asano
Yuuko Daike
Daigorô Tachibana
Gadarukanaru Taka
Michiyo Ookusu

Release: 23 Jul. 04

The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi


Some have compared Japan’s Zatoichi to the United States’ Zorro, even if most of the populace hasn’t seen the iconic figure’s films, the lasting images remain chiseled into the cultural consciousness. But outside of the comparison of preexisting knowledge, the connection is rather thin. While Zorro was a one-note character with fine conventions to latch onto, his figure was never recreated into anything artistically viable. Zatoichi, which could be just as uninspiring in the character’s original form, is different largely because that justification for the icon status can be seen in a reintroduction of the character to Japan with The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi. Since the film is directed by cult favorite Takeshi Kitano, America is thankfully allowed to share in this inauguration.

As usual, Kitano plays the title character, a blind masseur who stumbles into small towns and makes things right for the good people. He’s a one-man Seven Samurai, and his sword is just as deadly as all their forces combined. Though not quite believable, the film has an intentional camp quality that has made many of the filmmaker’s works especially refreshing amid Asian action’s more serious action artists like John Woo. Filled with special effect bloodbaths and deep sword swipes, this Zatoichi is meant to be taken as a pulp figure, the type of character Quentin Tarantino likely had in mind when crafting his Kill Bill films. In a nice touch, the film’s climactic battle between Zatoichi (Kitano credited, as always, “Beat” Takeshi) and gang hitman/bodyguard Hattori (Asano) occurs on a beach, where the Bride-Bill fight was supposed to occur.

What’s most amazing is that The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi is this much fun without turning the film into farce. Even when the music takes on the beat of workers in a field hoeing the ground, its absurdity wavers nearer to genius than idiocy. The same can be said of the film’s wonderful finale, in which Kitano again clefts from Seven Samurai (perhaps he’s becoming the Japanese Tarantino). In this sequence, as bodies jump and clog in a beautifully rhythmic motion, the film’s fight choreography is complemented by its dance choreography. “I wish I could see that,” the blind killer once says about the simple treats in life like seeing a friend carrying a basket of vegetables. I wish he could see this dance in his honor, too: it’s no less simple, but just as amazingly satisfying

©2004, David Perry,, 16 July 2004