Zatoichi: If Looks Could Kill

For Your Eyes Only

Last night, for our DVD viewing pleasure, the fam chose another exercise in idiosyncrasy from Takeshi Kitano: his 2003 interpretation of the tried and true franchise, Zatoichi, the Blind Swordsman. Now, anyone halfway familiar with the work of Kitano knows better than to expect a faithful adaptation of Shintarō Katsu’s classic samurai adventures, but with Kitano, forewarned is most definately not forearmed.

Oh, fans of the Shintarō flicks will get all of their fave shticks: A sudden whoosh of Zatoichi’s sword; he calmly leaves the room; a moment or two later something — a go board, say; or a sake bottle — falls in half. Or the scene in which some wise-apple thug thinks he can fool the poor blind guy. Hint: don‘t sneak up behind Zatoichi with a sword. And yes, like Toshirō Mifune’s “Yojimbo” and Clint Eastwood’s “Man With No Name,” he does a very thorough — if messy — job clearing a town of gangsters. The Sopranos had it easy in comparison; at least when they got whacked they stayed in one piece.

But apart from the expected Zatoichiisms, the film is all Kitano. True, he skips the moody, lingering shots of his usual work in favor of the more user-friendly short takes of pop action films, but the rest is all Kitano whimsy and non-sequitor. I’m not sure whether the many slapstick scenes serve to separate the sword fights, or whether all the sword fights serve to separate the slapstick. Probably the latter, when I consider how the film ends with everyone getting up on stage and doing a rousing tap-dance number in getas. The film sends you out with a song, so I guess that’s where its heart lies: It’s all in good fun, folks. Don’t take the garish CGI blood spurts too seriously. See: we’re all dancing!

Well, we all enjoyed the film here, but don’t take our word: We’re Kitano fans and allow him a whole whole whole lot of lattitude. Be warned: many human appendages go a-flying. And Kitano sure has a thing for poking out eyes, doesn’t he?

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