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Thread: My two-cents on Zatoichi

  1. #1
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    My two-cents on Zatoichi

    Like all good directors, Kitano "Beat" Takeshi has been hit-or-miss throughout his filmmaking career. Not everybody enjoyed Sonatine, while I thought it one of the most poetic films I'd ever seen, even if it was about gangsters. Even more so with Hana-Bi (Fireworks), which to me is a beautiful reaffirmation of the fragility of life and the essence of all that is worth living for and loving in this world. Sono Otoko, Kyobo Ni Tsuki (Violent Cop), on the other hand was his first film and seriously lacking in the style and substance that Kitano would become known for. Same with 3-4x Jugatsu (Boiling Point or The Third and Fourth of October). This is just my opinion, but those two movies did not interest me nearly as much as Sonatine and Hana-Bi. Brother was merely decent. Now Kitano brings us his adaptation of the classic blind samurai, Zatoichi.

    I think this film is a brilliant retelling. Without sacrificing the elements that made the original so appealing, Kitano infuses his own sense of style into the film. It has good acting (especially from Asano Tadanobu, in what I think is one of his best roles yet), great camerawork, well-choreographed fight scenes (not in a Hong-Kong John Woo style, but just well orchestrated and executed), as well as some interesting dance sequences for good measure. Kitano actually pulls off the blond look pretty well too, and does an excellent job convincing the audience that he is actually blind and a master swordsman. Unlike the American films of Starsky and Hutch or Eye Spy (where the movies are punning and joking off the elements that made the original shows seem great back then, but tacky to today's audiences...they were probably tacky for back then too), Kitano manages to recreate the world of Zatoichi for a new audience without drastically altering the essence and of the story.

    I'm glad to see that Zatoichi is getting the theatrical treatment it deserves in America. If Americans could get over their problem with subtitles and foreign films, they would see that many great movies are made outside of their own borders. Zatoichi is a movie that combines great action with a great story, something that is so lacking in today's American movie market. Get the substance first, then the action will be the icing on the cake. See Zatoichi. That's my two-cents.

  2. #2
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    I agree with you that Zatoichi is a successful recasting. Kitano does a good job of capturing the qualities of Zatoichi while adding his own little touches.

    I would add, though, that subtle as it may be, his blond hair, the neighboring idiot and a few other elements do suggest that he is having a little fun / poking a little fun at the original. I mean, a platinum blond-haired blind samurai?! That's pretty outrageous although it reads less so.

    Also, want to say that the music in Zatoichi is tremendous. I went with a friend who loved the dance at the end, but while I liked it, I much preferred the interior music which was quiet and propelling at the same time. This is a soundtrack that I will seek out.

    Overall, I think the movie was a little loose. The storyline was meandering but quite interesting at times. The fighting was well done, and as you state, not played too heavily.

    Overall, I give it a B+ and agree with you that Hanabi and Sonatine are better films.

    P

    PS I love Violent Cop! What didn't you like about it?

  3. #3
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    I think it's true Kitano is poking fun at it. He often does that, it's part of who he is as a comedian. He has even said in the liners to the Hana-Bi DVD that it's to his advantage that he's a comedian since it allows him to take failure in stride, so he at least knows that what he does has a touch of comedy. As for Violent Cop, I didn't necessarily dislike it, but as Kitano's first film, which he wasn't even supposed to direct, it didn't have the poetry of his alter films. It lacked in his style, even if it did posses his sense of pacing. The story I think wasn't as developed as what he'd later write and direct, it seemed almost common. Kitano handled a common story in an uncommon fashion, and I think traces of his style were being worke don, but I don't think it was up to par, at least not yet. It wasn't a bad movie, just that I'm not as interested in it as I would be in Sonatine and Hana-Bi. I watched it about 10 times, and each time it bored me a little more. It's not bad, but I just don't like it as much.

  4. #4
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    Unless you strongly object to bloody violence, stop reading my post and go watch Zatoichi (some spoilers below). Only the most dogmatic lovers of the Samurai genre are likely to complain since Kitano's revision retains the kinetic thrills of choreographed mayhem typical of the genre. Takeshi Kitano is a multi-faceted artist whose tragicomic persona is stamped all over his latest feature.

    The first thirty minutes or so consist of a series of short scenes that introduce the major characters and situations. The pathos is provided by the story of two siblings whose family was wiped out when they were kids. The more masculine of the two is a girl ,O-Kiru, who does most of the talking and killing. Her brother O-Sei is more feminine, an avowed transvestite. After surviving by posing as geishas for ten years, they are ready to exact revenge on their family's killers. The most tender and moving scene in the film involves the adult siblings practicing their song and dance, with Kitano crosscutting between the adult O-Sei and O-Sei practicing the same number as a child, as remembered by O-Kiru.

    The siblings will cross paths with Zaitochi, the main character of the most successful serial in Japanese cinema, here transformed by Kitano into a blond-haired fellow, who may not be blind afterall. Kitano even manages to concoct a scene in which the unspeakable happens: Zatoichi gets injured in a swordfight.
    The writer/director creates a number of unique peripheral characters including a retarded, pudgy man who's constantly playing at being a samurai in full-attack mode, and an old man employed at the sake tavern who's ridiculed by the patrons. If there is a running theme throughout the picture is that of characters concealing their true identity or their true nature.

    The film digresses often, to include all kinds of inspired comedic and musical bits. Maybe we can go into more detail in subsequent posts. For the time being, I'd like to support Ilker's comments regarding Kitano's first foray into filmmaking, Violent Cop, almost a straight genre exercise, made years before the director would develop his iconoclastic fusion.
    Last edited by oscar jubis; 08-27-2004 at 10:17 AM.

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