Sep 18, 2009 02:10 PM EST

The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi Swings It's Way Onto Blu-ray

The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi Swings It's Way Onto Blu-ray
Zatoichi's character -- a blind, wandering swordsman, who makes a living as a gambler and a masseur as he spends his time killing people when the chips are down. He has been around quite awhile, and has at least 26 films, and a TV series. There was a re-birth in 2003 with Zatochi, the movie being reviewed today -- apparently it is important to know which Zatochi you are getting.

The character is a wandering tough guy who often assists villagers with predatory, Yakuza mobsters or other villains.  His signature fighting style is Iado. Lado involves super-fast drawing of a sheathed blade, and often placing it back equally as fast. He often kills people before you can see they have been cut, and in a fight, his signature move is to cut off candle flames so he can battle in the dark.

The 2003 movie makes the interesting choice of going all CGI for the blood.  It does not look real, but is not supposed to! It is an 'artistic' representation on the part of the writer/director/lead actor, Takeshi Kitano (who plays Zatoichi).  The purpose is it is supposed to help alleviate any negative feelings caused by the high body count.  In my opinion, it was better than the sudden dance-number at the end, but I was a little ambivalent about it.  The movie is very bloody and very violent; and I didn't think that was a bad thing, so the fake blood didn't really grip me one way or the other.

Zatoichi is a very, very Japanese movie; and you need to know that going in.  It lacks western sensibilities, and sometimes sparks the western sense of humor or justice.  For example: Zatochi is gambling, and they switch dice on him ... he slaughters everyone affiliated with the gambling house.  It felt a little bit much to me; but again, it is not a Hollywood movie, so you have to adjust your standards for that.  The story was more interesting to me than Jackie Chan's, Legend of the Drunken Master that was just reviewed.  It is less of a physical comedy and played far more seriously.

If you want a western, blind sword-fighting movie, I recommend Blind Fury (1989, Rutger Hauer). It is based on the Zatoichi franchise just ported over to America and works well.  The 2003 Zatoichi is definitely the real thing; it is an imported movie for an audience that has a significantly different history and taste.  The movie is in English, but I ran it with the sub-titles on as well (since my wife is way more sensitive to sound than I am). I noticed often when the speakers would say ‘samurai'; the sub-titles would say 'ronin'.  These are two very, very different things for the native audience and have tons of different meaning. The sub-titles were correct -- the swords master for hire was not a samurai.

It is these types of things that make the experience richer, and while Zatoichi is pretty accessible, it is the Japanese equivalent of a western in my opinion. It is definitely a different vibe than most Kung Fu movies; or for example, most anime.  Why do the villagers suddenly break into a dance number at the end?  Because that is how the director wanted to end it.  He was doing an "Americanized" tribute to a convention in Japanese cinema, as I understand where a 'Hollywood-style' happy ending is followed by a burst-into-song-and-dance segment.  I think it should be pretty clear to most western audiences that even if the dance routine has some American sensibilities (rather than Kabuki) it isn't really 'Americanized' at all.

On Blu-ray, the sound and video is extremely crisp and there are interviews and behind-the-scenes material which is good, although it does not amplify the value much beyond the movie itself.  Fortunately though, Zatoichi is pretty good.
Rating - B

Purchase your copy today at or rent it from Blockuster Total Access

FlickDirect Movie Editor, Marco Chacon
Marco Chacon, Senior Editor
Marco Chacon isn't quite sure what he's doing here. Exposed to radioactive movies at a young age he has gained the proportional strength and agility of celluloid which hasn't proved good for much. However, on the Internet, it's opinion that counts (who needs facts!?) and Marco sure has one of those. Several, in fact. Some contradictory. He has written and published the JAGS RPG which you've never heard of. He's still waiting for Revenge of the Jedi to come out.

Favorite Films: Alien, Aliens, Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction, Terminator, Video Drome
Favorite Directors: James Cameron
Favorite Actors: Danny Divito, Edward Norton, Uma Thurman
Favorite Genres: Action, Sci-fi/Fantasy, Horror
Favorite Television:Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

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