Zatôichi is apparently based on a well-known Japanese folk story, of the blind samurai. It confused me greatly.

ZatoichiMaybe I don’t relate to Japanese cinema? Or I don’t have the cultural understanding to appreciate the humour and references in this film. Whatever it is, I found this a difficult film to come to grips with. I was confused by the humour, rather than amused – the idiot nextdoor neighbour wanting to be a samurai? I assume this was comic relief, but I found it hard to see why.

Beat Takeshi is hardly stretched at all… playing a mostly silent, blind but deadly swordsman is clearly within his range, as opposed to Matt Damon in The Bourne Supremacy for example. He delivers a mirth I could appreciate, and his action sequences are beautiful and impressive.

There is beauty in this film, and the scenery is particularly lovely. The slo-mo action sequences with highly stylised blood effects were wonderful, in a similar vein to the mud and rain in Brotherhood Of The Wolf (Le Pacte des Loups). The sets – with many, many Japanese screens – also impress.

There was much I just didn’t understand, so it is very hard to give an objective review. Did I enjoy it? Yes. Did I feel it overlong at 116 minutes? Yes. Would I watch it again? Only if I could be assured of a cultural understanding I currently don’t have.

What is with the closing song-and-dance number? This amazing ending floored me, and I left the cinema even more confused than before. I can only assume this is something of note in Japanese cinema, in a similar way that it is in Indian film-making. But hundreds of the cast wearing wooden tap shoes and performing a number from Tap Dogs? Bizarre.

Rating: 2.5 stars
Review by Mark Lavercombe, 7th September 2004
Hoopla Factor: 2.5 stars

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