Movie Reviews 195 – The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi (2003)

ZatoichiSpoiler alert to those we haven’t read my last blog, but having just watched The Book of Eli, this is technically the second ‘blind swordsman’ movie review in a row. And at the same time the stories are somewhat the opposite of one another, but to really understand that I’d have to spoil both movies.

The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi  is one of those enduring movies that seems to break all the rules, but in the end delivers in every respect. The non-linear approach is applied not only to the chronology of events, but also to what at first appears to be a haphazard mix of stories and characters that eventually coincide.

We follow the slow paced elderly blind masseur Zatôichi (Takeshi Kitano, who also wrote directed and co-edited the film) as he arrives in a small town, only to quickly dismember a troupe of fighters that have just caught up with him. Obviously a skilled old samurai, he then takes lodging with an elderly woman who tells him the towns troubles with the current Yakuza gang.

At the same time an unemployed ronin comes to the same town accompanied by his sick wife. Desperate for work he seeks out employment as a ‘bodyguard’ (read: on-call assassin) and,  much to the chagrin of his wife, ends up working for the troublesome gang currently vying for power from two other gangs as they bully the village inhabitants.

Last but not least we encounter two young Geisha girls trying to lure men, but not for friendly frolicking and not just any men. These girls also have their sights set on specific members of the Yakuza gang and while their their mission is shrouded in mystery, it is nothing like another whopping secret they have.

While many movies like this span breathtaking fight scenes with comedy relief, this film goes way beyond the norm ending in a Bollywood-like colorful dance sequence that will blow your mind. (Did I really see that?) In between we have an overweight grown imbecile constantly charging around huts believing himself to be a ronin, a gambler who tries to mimic Zatôichi’s prowess at dice gambling, and a bumbling bartender and waiter at the local watering hole.

We watch as the disparate storylines come to an ultimate unfortunate showdown between two sympathetic characters, only one of which can be victorious. While immensely entertaining, this is not a complete ‘feel good’ movie with everyone leaving happily, although that dance routine would have you believe otherwise. The gore is palpable and when you understand the circumstances of those two Geishas, their entertaining dances are actually quite creepy.

Apparently a staple Japanese cinema (like The One Armed Boxer, or Lone Wolf and Cub series) there are numerous Zatoichi films made over the years, many of them acclaimed. So keep an eye out there for others and not just this one. I certainly will.

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