The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi (2003)

Not many people are aware of it, but I’m a huge fan of the “Zatoichi” series. I love the series, and I’ve seen almost all of them, so when I was finally able to get my hands on the Beat Takeshi sequel, I was ecstatic. What made Zatoichi was that Shintaro Katsu presented such an inept and humble distinction to him that he was never thought to be a dangerous persona, but Katsu strived in making Zatoichi so unassuming, yet so utterly deadly. Katsu was short, chubby, and seemingly incapable of being able to learn any sort of arts, but once criminals crossed Ichi’s path, he spoke loudly with his rapid fire sword work. For those unaware of the character, Zatoichi is an ex-yakuza who lost his eyesight during a war, and became a masseur traveling across the land as an anti-hero.

Beat Takeshi once again proves how much skill is a prerequisite with his films, providing an almost excellent interpretation of the Ichi storyline. Shintaro Katsu will always be Ichi to me, but Beat Takeshi captures the character’s essence perfectly providing the same humility and silent anguish Katsu instilled with his original portrayal. Takeshi’s Ichi is the same man except slightly older and much more willing to interrupt bad situations to make himself known as someone not to be reckoned with. Takeshi’s film also presents more of an abstract storyline this time with multiple storylines involving a gang war, and two homicidal geisha’s. All of the Ichi films involved Ichi accidentally walking in the middle of a gang war, and Takeshi never strays from those successful concepts. As for the action, Takeshi keeps the spirit of those exciting sequences alive playing with the concept as two opponents will strategize in a fantasy sequence before batting swords, and Takeshi’s decision to exaggerate bloodshed through computer effects that resemble flower petals more than droplets make for a very good visual experience.

The effects are wonderful because Takeshi never overdoes his ideas, and with his utterly fantastic direction, it’s hard not to be entertained. It’s a welcome addition to the “Zatoichi” franchise, and I’m glad Takeshi is able to perfectly capture what made the original films so fantastic. Yet, he’s not above providing his own creative spin with a wonderful musical number in the climax, which many will be turned off from.  But to those who saw the Ichi films, you’ll know that the musical number is fitting for what the old Ichi films used to feature. Many of the early Ichi films featured a musical number, and Takeshi takes a cue once again and gives us a great installment.

“Zatoichi” does unfortunately become incredibly disjointed by the second half as the flow of the story begins to break down and the events that take place feel more like a series of vignettes and not a complete story. We constantly fade in and out with different situations and characters without feeling as if a story is being told, and Zatoichi is pushed into the background for a portion of the film. Takeshi also plays too much with camp relying on gags that attempt to confirm that the writer doesn’t take the material too seriously, but ruins the atmosphere that builds up and constantly crumbles. And most of all, I hated how they changed the Ichi character, especially with his big secret in the climax, which didn’t sit well with me as a fan of the original films. For Takeshi to provide such a huge plot twist felt too presumptuous and thus unwelcome. While I still prefer the old series with Shintaro Katsu, Beat Takeshi’s take on the Zatoichi storyline is very entertaining and continuously original. With a storyline in the vein of the old series, Takeshi perfectly captures the world of Ichi and is wonderful as the blind swordsman.