Thursday, August 28, 2008

Zatoichi review

Zatoichi, a blind masseur/master swordsman enters a town ridden with gang wars, while citizens are pushed around for protection money. Befriending a gambling addict, a poor woman and two revenge driven siblings, Zatoichi seeks out help for the innocent because he’s the only one who can see the truths hidden in this town.

The Good?
The action shines in its own unique way as the fighting is choreographed with swift outbursts consisting of Zatoichi with his trademark sword grip, mowing through enemies with incomprehensible speed. Takeshi Kitano makes Zatoichi even more bad-ass.

Kitano manages to even infuse Zatoichi with his trademark comedy, from clever dialogue to sidesplitting visuals. He sprinkles the absurd into the most dramatic scenes (an enemy draws his sword a bit too hastily), but he manages to keep the silliness from undermining the serious parts of the story. It’s a very fine, difficult line to walk, but we know Kitano can handle it.

Very odd, eccentric characters are peppered around the village. An insane neighbor dressed only in underwear and samurai armor running in circles screaming maniacally is quite funny.

The film’s glorifies Japanese culture from lavish kimonos and longer-than-usual geisha entertainment to ‘Stomp’ style scenes of the labors rhythmically hammering away to create catchy soundtracks.

Kitano also throws in a very contagious five-minute tap scene with the film’s entire cast and again, it’s baffling how it fits in perfectly, but it does.

The Bad?
While Kitano fills the film with interesting characters, none of them are explored enough. Zatoichi lacks any dimension. Two siblings bent on revenge make up a boring sub-plot that takes up too much time. And Tadanobu Asano’s antagonist character doesn’t get the back-story needed to make his inevitable confrontation with Zatoichi as epic as it should have been. Kitano impresses us on every level, but abandons his characters in the process.


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