Zatoichi movie reviewZatoichi review


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Directed by Takeshi Kitano

Starring: Takeshi Kitano, Tadanobu Asano, Michiyo Ogusu, Yui Natsukawa
Script: Takeshi Kitano
Original Title: Zatoichi
Running Time: 1:56
Country: Japan
Year: 2003
Official Site: Zatoichi
After the melodrama Dolls, Takeshi Kitano returns to the Japanese "style", while directing a chambara or Japanese sabre film, crossed with dazzling visuals and narrative.

While adapting the intrinsic codes of the genre, Kitano evokes his themes of predilection: the representation (the end takes place on a scene), the burlesque (counterpoint to despair and violence), as well as childhood and its counterpart: lost innocence.

Here the director plays Zatoichi, a recurring character of a popular Japanese TV series in the Sixties. However, he gives a very personal breadth to the blind masseur, a highly skilled samouraļ who excells in swordfighting. Thus he nourishes the character with his humour and his consumate art for offbeat tones.

Kitano exceeds the citation, although his film is fully located in the continuity of Shaw Brothers productions. The director revisits the wu xia pian, a mythical genre transcended by the master choreographer Yuen Wo-ping, to whom we owe the spectacular combats of The Matrix, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Hero and more recently the brilliant Kill Bill by Quentin Tarantino, with which Zatoichi maintains numerous correspondence. Wo-Ping, an essential figure, thus contributed to the resurgence and the revival of a cinematic genre codified to the extreme and currently very in vogue on our screens.

On the classic framework of revenge, Kitano builds an excessive film, by the intertwined accounts of characters met by the masseur: from a couple of geishas to the inveterate dice player, while passing on to the batty widow, all have an account to settle with the Organization that reigns terror on the village.. beginning with Zatoichi himself. Kitano exploits the pretences. The truth is disguised in order to gradually reveal itself, following the example of the false geisha (a young boy who's been initiated into the art of seduction by his sister) and of the mysterious masseur, whose usurped status and artificial blindness enable him to put the finishing touches on his business of death.

Far from being toned down by the resort to digital effects, the combats are of a rare violence (amputated parts and bloodshed in the purest Japanese tradition), striking in their fulgurance, their virtuosity and the rhythm that accompanies them. The sonorous dressing of the film appears more inventive. Thus, the use of electronic music, which surrounds the fight scenes, is surprising in a Kitano film. The majority of the scenes impose their singular rhythm (jingling until the percussion starts, finishing on a logical number of tap-dancing, a figuration of the meeting between East and West as in Brother). On the majority of the sequences this soundtrack confers their lyricism or their imagination.

But in spite of its numerous formal qualities, why regard Zatoichi as a minor production Kitano's work? Quite simply because the cineaste has enchanted us with films crossed with an emotion and a poetry that are cruelly lacking here (Fireworks, Sonatine). The alternation of burlesque and melodramatic sequences functions less well in Zatoichi, because it creates narrative ruptures, contrary to Kitano's preceding films where these two poles coexisted harmoniously. It doesn't prevent, "all combat is grandiose for the victorious one!"

  Sandrine Marques

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