Director: Takeshi Kitano
Writer: Takeshi Kitano (screenplay) – Kan Shimosawa (novel)
Music: Keiichi Suzuki
Photography: Katsumi Yanagishima y Hitoshi Takaya
Production: 2003, Japan
Runtime: 116 minutes
I will start this serie of reviews with one of my favorite movies. You may say that my incursion in Japanese cinema was through this film. However, I have to tell you that when I heard about this movie my first thoughts about it were bad. The idea of a blind Samurai that fights crime did not attract me at all, but I decided to give a try. After I watch it, I realize how wrong I was in my conception about the movie. Zatoichi is a movie that every film-buff has to see, not only because the direction is Kitano but also because Zatoichi is a Japanese classic.
Zotoichi is one of the most known fictional characters in Japan´s literature and Tv. The character was created by the writer Khan Shimozawa in the period Edo, and afterward was adapted for the TV by Daiei Studios and Shintaro Katsu. The small character grew and after a while, it had a great impact in the industry, in the last 45 years there is more than 25 movies and more than 90 episodes for the TV. The movies shows the life of Zatoichi (originally called “Ichi”) a blind masseuse that goes around Japan working and helping those that need him, although he pretends to be an old defenseless one, his appearance deceive.
In 2003, Takeshi Kitano did an excellent work in making a remake of Zatoichi. In which he was able to catch the essence of Zatoichi but also could add a very personal touch to the so beloved Japanese character. If someone saw the original series you could probably notice some differences with the character, for example, the hair color is blonde and he carries a red katana-cane, in the original all his esthetics were simpler (he we portrayed more like a old homeless man). The decision in changing so much the personage was to give a more “hardcore” image, like a warning sign not to mess with him. However, the most important changed was done in his personality as how he relates to other characters. In the original, Zatoichi was more involved with the other characters, on the new version he seems to be more disconnect emotionally. The secondary characters are presented through different flashbacks that give indications of who they are and which are their goals. In first place, we have the Narutos brother whose parents were murdered by a mafia clan when they were children. The brothers, now adult, seek to revenge their family, to discover the murderers they dress as geishas to be able to approach their victims. Here is an interesting point, when they were boys; the male brother was obliged to prostitute with strange to get some money to survive this left her sister with some guilty feelings. Another interesting secondary personage is the young Ronin, a samurai which owner was killed and now he searches work as bodyguard. Soon a mafia leader recruits him and he becomes the enemy of Zatoichi. The transition of the movie is very well achieved, the development of the personages is impeccable and the relations among the different characters make different clashes. Kitano manages to give this classic a personal touch, there are scenes with colors of comedy but also there are scenes that will leave you with a knot in the throat.
One of the first things that you probably notice is that the blood was done by computer (CGI: Computer-generated imagery) at the beginning it can seem strange but this was done in purpose. Takeshi Kitano is known as a director that shows a lot of blood in screen but in this movie, that should be bloody, he didn’t wanted the movie to be categorized as “gore”, so he decided to use digital techniques (Very rare in Kitano´s movies). Another thing to keep in mind is the music; generally, in all the movies Kitano have excellent composers, for this film the soundtrack was composed by Keiichi Suzuki.
Now I want to speak about the end of the movie, without telling a lot. There are various, so called “critics” that criticized the end of the movie as being “ridiculous” and “not connected to the story”, but they are wrong about it (This criticism show that they didn’t watch a lot of Kitano´s movies). Kitano was capable to mix the old Japanese dances with the modern “tap dancing” creating one of the better ends that I have ever seen on screen. The coreographic dance was interpreted by “The Stripes” one of the better groups of tap-dance of Japan, the story was that upon seeing one of its presentations Kitano remained impressed and decided to include them in the movie.
Finally, it wanted to add some things that learned after doing this review. Apparently, all the fight scenes were filmed using two types of cameras, normal cameras and high-speed cameras. This was done since in many scenes, the normal cameras failed to grasp the action of the swords but with the high-speed cameras, it was possible to film all the action.
As anecdote, there is a scene where Zatoichi fights under the rain, for this scene it was used a system of tubes that throw water to resemble the rain. The story said that the clean water was exhausted after a short period and they had to use field water (which is not drinkable), and after they finished filming they all smelled really badly. Kitano explained that that scene is a tribute to seven samurai of Akira Kurosawa another movie that I will review.
Zatoichi is an excellent remake of the original that deservers a try. A new version of Zatoichi called “Ichi” was released in the 2008 that tells the story of the daughter of Zatoichi but that´s a different story. See you next week maybe I made some time and came with another review in the weekend. (Sorry for any horror mistake I dont have the practice that I used to have. Comment if you like the review the style etc. thanks)
By Sebastián Nadilo