Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Zatōichi (座頭市) Review

Zatōichi (座頭市)
Director Takeshi Kitano has directed some of Japan’s best cinema, with his award winning Hana-bi being one of my favourite films of all time. His manner of directing is one that includes strong violence, drama and dark humour. He also has tended to stay with the Yakuza/ gangster genre of cinema, but has recently out-stretched to drama and comedy, which he was originally infamous for (stand-up comedy). However, here he attempts to retell the ‘Legend of Zatōichi’ which has been continuously portrayed in films, books and television. Though along way away from his ‘comfort zone’, this attempt at a period piece still sees his notorious use of violence and dark humour. The result is a film that is bloody and entertaining. 
The plot follows Zatōichi (Takeshi Kitano), a blind masseur who secretly wields the way of the samurai, and the sword too. Following a traditional ‘samurai genre’ structure and theme, Zatōichi uses his swordsman skills to the defence of local townspeople who are caught up in the local Yakuza war. Meanwhile, two siblings pose as geishas seeking revenge for the massacre of their family, who are the same Yakuza causing the local disarray. The two stories eventually converge, leading to a pulsating showdown with a high and bloody body count. Overall it’s a solid plot that is easily accessible by western audiences, but has no originality.
The acting is a mixed bunch. Kitano’s performance offers nothing memorable or engrossing. Instead he remains the quiet, yet brutal individual who we have seen in most of his films, which probably suits the character. Another famous face from Japanese cinema is Tadanobu Asano. He plays a hired rōnin for one of the Yakuza bosses, and though playing a ‘bad-ass’, falls short of his usual performances. The tragic nature of his character; unemployed, dying wife, never comes through in his acting. The one who stands out is Gadarukanaru Taka playing Shinkichi, the comedy relief of the picture. Providing much of the jokes, his character is well developed and offers a break from the serious dialogue, heavy action and blank characters. 
The cinematography and fight choreography are both well done, and complement each other well. However the CGI’s cheap production values really hinders the scenes and the overall film. Bad CGI has been implemented instead of practical effects; blood splatter, sword impalement etc, which really takes the audience out of the experience. The Japanese have never been able to master computer graphics, which is astonishing with their technological feats in animation and gaming. However, the sound is fantastic. With the plot focusing on a blind samurai, Kitano has clearly focused on the sound and tuneful aspect of his picture. Everything seems to have been amplified, transforming simple fights scenes into epic battles. Various scenes of peasants and workers ploughing fields and hammering nails, create a melodic beat to the picture. Even the last scene, which seems out of place, is a large tap-dancing show with the various surviving members of the supporting cast and numerous extras. 
Overall, Zatoichi isn’t Takeshi Kitano’s best, yet remains entertaining. The samurai genre of Japanese cinema has been over-saturated due to its historical and cultural implications, and Zatōichi offers nothing new to this. However, what it does offer is an enjoyable, brutal and competently acted take on the famous legend. 


In light of the events transpiring in Japan, I would like to make the following links visible: 

1 comment:

  1. Yes.
    Besides the violence and gore, Kitano pays close attention to details like embedding sound into the background music (in at least to scenes) and including musical numbers, several, specially the one at the very end, and that makes the movie go to the next level.
    For me, it was an unique experience, slow at times, fast at times, but enjoyable over all...