The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi (2003) Poster

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Mattias Petersson25 November 2004
The story of the blind swordsman Zatoichi should be well known to most aficionados of Japanese cinema. I was thrilled when i heard that Takeshi Kitano (of all people) would be making a re-make of the classic series. And i was not disappointed.

The blind masseur/swordsman Zatoichi stumbles upon a lone widow when he comes walking in the countryside. He helps her carry a basket and she tells him of her problems while he is invited to stay with her. The local town is plagued by a war between different criminal factions and the protection rates are constantly going up. Soon two geishas also arrive in town with their own agenda, linked to one of the warring gangs.

Zatoichi is a beautiful film in my opinion. Everything from photography and scenery to music is exceptionally well tuned to the mood of the film. Also the action sequences are very well made, the fencing well choreographed and nicely shot. What distracted me somewhat though is the use of liquid animation for the blood. There is almost no usual fake blood in this movie, rather it's liquid animation-blood spraying when people are stabbed. This looks odd, but it's still a minor distraction.

Zatoichi feels both like a nice tribute to 60's and 70's samurai-films as well as a fresh take on the genre. Both modern and classic, which is one of the finest compliments i feel you can give a movie like this one. I enjoyed it very much and i rate it 7/10.
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A absolutely enchanting film!
Scorching22 July 2004
Zatoichi is the updated version of cult Japanese show some decades back.Here a blind swordsman goes to a small town controlled by a ruthless gang and abuses the people there. There he meets many characters like the siblings on a mission, a samurai who is hired by the gang, as well as an unlucky gambler who befriends the blind swordsman.

This is the first ever Takeshi Kitano film I have ever seen and I got to say it turned out to be a rather pleasant surprise. Prior to this I have heard so much about Kitano's work and was really expecting to see a really good film. Add to that every samurai film I see normally gets compared to Kurosawa's works like Rashomon, and Ran which of course are tough acts to follow. I thought the film was well made in many aspects. The cinematography was really beautiful and well made. The costumes like most period films were finely crafted and were beautiful. The scoring was also very good.

I always find it rather hard to laugh in a film that is non-English. I guess I always believed that humour doesn't always transcend different cultures. What may be funny for one may seem rather dull in another. This film however debunks that thought. I found myself laughing over a lot of scenes in the film. Even in scenes where you do not think there could be a funny moment Kitano is able to deliver one just to break the tension a little.

The fight scenes in this film were also well planned and I though it was done realistically but not necessarily done to shock the audiences with bucket loads of blood and mangled body parts. It was effective but not too disturbing.

I also thought that the overall story of the film was good. I was particularly interested with the story of the siblings and it's eventual resolution at the end of the movie.

Takeshi Kitano's Zatoichi is a great film which now ranks as one of my and hopefully it will be to other people. I'm already anticipating the next film from this great film and will also look for some of his earlier works.
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With tap dancing, mundane superpowers, and an attractive albeit gender-confused cross-dresser, Zatoichi truly offers 'something for everybody'.
Colette Corr17 December 2004
This is a strange one, a drama/comedy/action film with absurdist overtones. In Japan, Zatoichi is a cult character who was the subject of 26 feature films between 1963 and 1989. Now director "Beat" Takeshi – best known for Hana Bi – introduces Zatoichi to a new generation. Takeshi also stars as Zatoichi, the elderly masseur and dice gambler whose hearing is so acute he can detect which side a die has fallen. He's a master swordsman, too – one slice and you're diced.

Supporting characters include two beautiful geishas avenging their parents' death, a farmer and her drunkard nephew, the gangsters running the town and a masterless samurai (an impressive performance from Tadanobu Asano).

The Blind Swordsman is great fun, although it could do with a tighter structure. And I was shocked by the spectacular tap-dancing finale – in traditional Japanese dress and shoes! ***½/***** stars.
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A magnificent film
cjwright7910 May 2010
What more is there to say? Zatoichi is a class act, all the way. Time and time again Takeshi Kitano proves himself an honorable, direct, and honest filmmaker. There is no whiff of pretense, nonsense, or any other kind of malodorous sense emanating from this film. All is well when you enter into one of Beat Takeshi's film worlds. It puts all of Western cinema to deep shame, for its trite, condescending, and totally vapid worldviews. That Beat Takeshi is so well-regarded in France and Italy speaks well of cultural refinement of these nations. And to find so few reviews of Takeshi's work in the Western media exposures a gaping void in everybody's understanding of the Eastern hemisphere. The sensible, sane, and helpful ideals of Confucianism permeate this film to its very core. Overall, Zatoichi is essential viewing for anyone who would like to consider themselves even remotely human.
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Breaking all the Rules
Eric_Cason9 August 2004
It's a kind of "what the hell" type of movie, as in "what the hell, let's throw in a dance scene," as in "what the hell, let's play with 50 years of mythology' as in 'what the hell is an action movie really?" I liked it. It had a desert dry humor about it, the action scenes were amazing (yes, the blood is supposed to look fake!) and I just liked the shear audacity of it all. Kitano made a crowd pleasing action film with out sacrificing his art. It isn't the plot that makes this one go, it's Kitano's refusal to play to anyones expectations. It's not a perfect movie, but it's amazing to watch a film maker at the top of his game just showing off for his own selfish pleasure.
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'Beat' Takeshi's sweeping interpretation of the Zatoichi saga...
abentenjo17 May 2005
Kitano's update on the legacy of one of Japan's most iconic cinematic figures is an exhilarating watch, the more tender moments conflicted by a barrage of bloody violence. Takeshi remains true to his source, undergoing the sedate transformation to play the blind swordsman and part time masseuse Zatoichi himself, as well as co-ordinating the action. His purists will no doubt abhor the witty sense of fun laid on thick in certain characters (a gambling sidekick and an insane neighbour) and the little nuances of irreverent genius (a drum dancing soundtrack and a ho-down finale orchestrated by Japanese dance troupe 'the Stripes'), but this isn't the Yakuza bloodletting of his earlier films, rather a more charming reflection on feudal life, with a distinct post-modern twist. Further confirmation of this is provided by Takeshi's story, which focuses more on the plight of two avenging Geishas (one male) hunting for the prestigious killers of their parents, rather than the motivation for our titular hero, yet Zatoichi does leap into action when he agrees to assist the siblings. Each frame is a Kurosawa-esquire masterstroke. This is Zatoichi for a new era, and with such a breathtaking start, it will be hard for Kitano not to return to his new-found alter ego any time soon.
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In the Hands of the Blind
Ion Martea9 December 2004
Warning: Spoilers
If you thought that Japanese cinema is all Akira Kurosawa or the "Ringu" series, then you may want to check out an audience favourite at Venice and Toronto Film festivals, "Zatoichi". The creator of "Hana-bi" (1997) and "Dolls" (2002), Takeshi Kitano turned to a historic figure of the Japanese culture, and so directed his first period piece, and directed it masterfully.

Zatoichi (Beat Takeshi/Kitano) is a blind old masseur, with blonde hair, who can fight with his sword as well as Michael Flately can dance with his feet. He does not have many enemies, but he is good at creating them, in order to defend the just. And, of course, he attacks single-handedly the biggest mafia clan in a village in 19th Century Japan. The plot is simple, but it does contain some interesting moments, which focus mainly on some minor characters. Hattori (Tadanobu Asano) is forced by fate to protect the baddies in order to save his wife, while Osei (Daigaro Tachibana) seems to enjoy dressing as a Geisha along with his sister Okinu (Yuko Daike) in order to revenge the death of his family. Otherwise we have a lot of extraordinary fighting scenes, with amazingly low-tech blood effects for Japanese standards.

This isn't flying "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" for you, but a gory down-to-earth action epic, in case you were wondering. It also contains a lot of humour in the most unexpected of places, and apart from the wanna-be samurai child, it is frankly hilarious.

"Zatoichi" is a still highly controversial. Our hero lives by gambling, and he seems to enjoy living on other's mercy. However, these are mild issues in comparison to the distressing moment when a 10-year old Osei willingly offers himself to another man in order to gain money for him and his sister. I cannot recall another film in which homosexual paedophilia is promoted by children, and, more importantly, as an acceptable means for achieving an end.

Nevertheless, there are two main reasons why this film should not be missed. First you have great performances given by the main leads, especially by the Daigaro Tachibana in his first ever screen part, and Michiyo Ogusu as Aunt Oume. And then the choreography – as you may witness probably the best group dance since the 1970s seen in a film. And if one mentions 19th Century Japan and tap-dancing in the same phrase, than this should be a hint to what you may be expecting. Believe it: It is spectacular! Great swordfights and lots of fun in an epic about a blind hero – could this be all "Zatoichi" is about? See it, and judge it for yourself.
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Kitano doesn't fail to amaze!!
sandspider111 June 2004
Zatoichi is definitely one of my favourite films and I consider it one of Kitano's best if not his best in terms of his acting and directing. I have the majority of Kitano's films and I was over joyed to hear that he was starring and directing Zatoichi and I was not disappointed when i saw it. Everything about the film is exceptional although a big disappointment for me was the fact that CGI blood was used which does look a bit fake in some scenes. That is the only criticism I can think of. The film is very violent but like Kill Bill it is comic violence. I was also pleased to see Tadanobu Asano(Kakihara from Ichi the Killer)who was very good and he also plays a reasonably similar role in Gohatto(also starring Kitano). Fans of Kitano and Japanese cinema should watch this as well as fans of the Zatoichi franchise.

Near flawless film!!

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Delightfully perfect
toclement27 May 2004
What a fantastic return to form for Japanese director and creative renaissance man, Takeshi Kitano. Zatoichi excels because of its break with conventions, mixing humour, dance, slapstick, and theatre with an otherwise tense and violent plot. This film breaks the art-house tradition by going for the jugular with its entertainment value, yet it never stoops to the level of Hollywood triteness. Some may complain about how this Zatoichi isn't consistent with the original Zatoichi, but that was done by design. Kitano set out to create his own story, his own character, and his own version - simply using the legend of Zatoichi as the most basic blueprint from which to start. He deserves credit for creating something new and innovative, even when working with an old story. The dance scene at the end is phenomenal and very directly (and intentionally) reminds movie goers that you are there to be entertained. The best film I've seen this year and among Kitano's best, and that's saying a lot.
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Flawed but still very enjoyable
bob the moo13 March 2004
Zatoichi is a good humoured blind man who travels making his living from being a masseur. He arrives in a small village, keeping secret his ability as a swordsman. The village is split with rival gangs, one of whom hires a troubled but talented samurai to wipe the others out. Meanwhile two beautiful geisha sisters are more than they appear. Into the middle of the impending bloody conflict walks Zatoichi.

One of the good things about Kill Bill may well be that it brings a wider audience to the martial arts genre from the Far East on a bigger scale. If that is the case then this is one of the films that they will likely come to first in the cinema, as it is about to have a full UK release. I was able to see this as part of the Birmingham Screen Festival 2004, so I was in a full audience that was ready and willing to be entertained and this may have helped me enjoy it more than a half full cinema of people who have just drifted in. With or without this atmosphere I found this to be an enjoyable, stylish, funny and violent film - but not without flaws.

The biggest flaw is the plot sadly. At it's heart it is a good story, but the manner of delivery really hamstrings it's ability to engage and grip. I have read that it was meant to be a homage/spoof of operas, and my very astute (and beautiful!) friend told me that the way of having lots of minor characters to almost cover costume changes for the main actors is a musical thing and that the film reminded her of that. While I accept that may be the reason for the way the film is, it doesn't change the fact that it didn't work for me. The films starts with difficulty - it is hard to follow with so many characters and gangs of which we are given no history to work with. This continues for much of the film, with minor characters coming and going, partly contributing to the overall story but also breaking up the flow with subplots that are never really explained or understood.

This trend continues, with the film never getting a real tension or pace to it. The conclusion of the film is a bit of a letdown - although I may have been conditioned to expect `the big showdown' in this genre. It still works pretty well but I just had a pretty big problem with the way the story flowed (or didn't). This is not to downplay how much I did enjoy it. The film has a great thread surrounding Osei where he acts as a comic relief - all his stuff is very funny and it really helps to break the tension; it's just the things like the bodyguard's subplot - nothing explained yet quite a lot of weight put on him. While it does lack pace, tension and punch, it still works well enough to hold the action together.

The fights are bloody, stylish and enjoyable although I fear that those weaned on Kill Bill's excess will not accept it as gory enough. The use of CGI blood may be a problem as well - personally I found it to compliment the otherworldly effect of the film by being almost more pronounced than `real' blood would be. The fights are enjoyable, although they are perhaps a little too brief - certainly some of the more important fights were over way too quickly and without ceremony. Generally though, the film looks amazing. Each shot is framed really well and, where the characters are still or set against a big background, many of the shots would look great on a poster. The sets are fantastic and really capture the sense of period and place. As director, Takeshi really has done well even if he could have done with a bit more help on the action front.

The cast are roundly superb even where the are let down by the material a little bit in terms of their characters. Takeshi plays his character with an easy going humour that contrasts nicely with his sudden, violent movements at key moments. Easily the standout performance though is from Taka, who brings so much to the film with his likeable, comic fool. He is very funny throughout the film and his lack of background is not a problem as none of his strands call upon that like the others do. Asano's bodyguard is interesting but sadly poorly served by the material. The two sisters are OK but again their performances are overshadowed by the fact that their sections of the film are not as strong as need be - the slightly corny CGI ending involving them is only corny because I didn't have sufficient buy in to their characters to care that much. The various villains fail to impose themselves on the film but enough is done by Takeshi and Taka to keep the audience engaged.

Overall I did really enjoy this film. It was visually very stylish, funny, engaging and enjoyable. It has flaws with the structure, the plotting in regards characters and suffers from a lack of real excitement or consistent tension but it is still more than worth seeing.
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They don't make 'em like this anymore...oh wait!
The_Void29 March 2005
Takeshi Kitano's offbeat samurai drama marks a personal triumph for the man himself and a notable entry for the genre. Kitano directs and stars as the blind samurai of Japanese pulp fiction; Zatôichi. He puts in a grand performance and really brings the character to life. His direction is superb also, and he succeeds in creating a foreboding and tension filled atmosphere that also captures the familiar Kurosawa-esque feel of the classic samurai movies. The story follows the fate of blind samurai master: Zatôichi. This master doesn't let a small thing like losing his sight get in the way, and in spite of being blind, the master is still the fastest man with a sword; as he proves on a number of occasions. The first thing you will notice about the fight scenes in this movie is that they are bloodthirsty! That's no bad thing, of course, especially since the second thing you will notice is that there's lots of them. The fight sequences are definitely the highlight of the movie, and they include some highlights in themselves; as we watch in delight as limbs fly and people get sliced and diced! The fights in this film make the likes of Kill Bill look even more ridiculous than it does already.

Takeshi Kitano creates his own world for the characters in the movie to inhabit, and he also seems keen to incorporate as many elements as possible into the plot, which is good in one way as it ensures that the movie is always intriguing and interesting, but it does get a little convoluted and, at times, makes you think "what's that there for?!". Still, the film does offer lots of interesting little tidbits, and it never gets so convoluted that it becomes boring. Well, it can't do; there's always another fight scene round the corner! The film is artistically played throughout, and you get the impression that Kitano has an obvious respect for the art of cinema, which is certainly no bad thing at all. Even though the plot is very familiar, and anyone that's seen more than a couple of samurai movies will have seen one with a plot like this one has; it's inventive enough to carve out a niche of it's own, and it draws it's originality from that fact. On the whole, this isn't a great samurai movie like the ones of yore; but it's encouraging that films like this are still being made, and it's easily one of the best movies of 2003. Recommended viewing!
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Shameful and pathetic failed attempt of recapturing Zatoichi's magic.
shaolinwind1327 October 2005
OK, everyone loves this flick and I can see why, to a degree. We all know the fights are pretty stunning. But bloody sword battles do not make a movie/ As a major fan of the old Zatoichi series I am terribly disappointed. I went into this film with expectations. I expected the film to revisit the original series at every turn. I wanted to see Ichi cheat at gambling with the old "dice falling out of the sleeve" trick. I wanted to see him use his blindness to make people think he was weak, then punish them for taking advantage. I wanted to see him drinking hard, womanizing, and stuffing his face as often as possible. I expected him to be robust and handsome with a deep growling voice, just like the original. Instead, who did they have attempt to fill the shoes of Katsu Shintaro? An aged nobody with a feeble voice and distorted stroke-face.

The plot was weak as water. The movie was smattered with meaningless characters who provided neither humor nor serious plot device.. The retarded man who dreamed of being a samurai never did anything useful.. How cool would it have been if he showed up at just the right time to save someone's butt with his spear, and subsequently get slaughtered? It would be shocking and he would have died a hero, satisfying a samurai movie fan's lust for chivalrous self-sacrifice from the characters. The poor gambler who befriends Ichi is useless and unlikable as well. They spend endless time showing his attempt to build gambling skills, which he fails at.... and that's the end of that. WOW. That's what I call pointless. Then he gets a wild hare and wants to dress like a geisha for no apparent reason other than to put him in drag for "comic" purposes.

The camera-work was really horrible.. My main complaint was closeups where there should not have been closeups, going to reaction shots when what we wanted to see was action, starting out with a lovely angle that cuts away too fast to enjoy it.. The camera work threatens to be brilliant over and over and fails each time.

The film also insults your intelligence by providing flashbacks to scenes that happened less than a minute ago. They hand obvious facts on a platter, apparently to cater to the very least intelligent among us.

The back story of the brother and sister team on a mission for revenge brings up issues for me as well.. When their attempts to rob Ichi and his incompetent gambler friend are stopped, they suddenly tell their entire life story and plot for revenge, and then they are now all boone companions... That, in my book, makes no sense whatsoever.

And last but not least, the festival. WHAT? Ancient Japanese tap dancing? We are treated to some bizarre combination of River Dance and Stomp set to vaguely Japanese sounding music. While three men dressed like Peter Pan are tap dancing, they show all our friends from the movie there with them, and apparently they've been taking choreographed dance lessons when not slaving away as peasants under yakuza rule... And what's better, they all know to face the camera!! That doesn't look like a festival, it looks like a stage show at the holiday inn. GIVE ME A BREAK. The festival scene absolutely destroyed the tone of the movie, and was highly reminiscent of the way you end a children's movie or a cartoon.

This movie shames Zatoichi fans as well as the Japan's rich film history. The writers would need to commit seppuku to regain their honor. Long story short, real Zatoichi fans will be repulsed by this film. Steer Clear!!
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They don't make Zatoichi like they used to
wanderingstar12 December 2006
I just finished watching this film and am surprised that it has received such a good rating on IMDb. The first problem I had was with the Zatoichi character. Zatoichi played originally by Shintaro Katsu, was humble, had a subtle humour, the seemingly bungling master swordsman. This to me is what made him a memorable character. This new Zatoichi is simply ruthless with little of the honour he should have, seems to look for a fight, doesn't speak much, has no humanity and therefore is hard to warm up to.

The plot was my second problem. Those who enjoy the original films or TV series know that one of the best things about them is how the plots are well crafted... Zatoichi 2003 was not even close in this respect.

Third was the shoddy secondary character development. For instance we were introduced to the "bodyguard" and his ailing wife and we want to sympathize with them, but then the film went nowhere with their development to make us feel anything for them. The big internal conflict in the viewer when Zatoichi meets the bodyguard in combat should be: how will I feel if this guy, who is just trying to make money to heal his sick wife, is cut down? Going into this fight, the answer is... well, not much.

Fourth was the absolutely ridiculous modern tap hip-hop dance sequence at the end - what was that about?!? Embarrassing and completely out of step with the rest of the film.

Also of note, I was under the impression this was set in the 16th century, but a revolver was pulled in one scene. A small thing but it bothered me.

One the whole very disappointing, as a film in general and especially when compared to the originals.
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Learning With Master Akira Kurosawa
Claudio Carvalho30 October 2006
The blind masseur and former samurai Zatôichi (Takeshi Kitano) is drifting and arrives in a small village dominated by three tyrannical lords, Inosuke Ginzo (Ittoku Kishibe), Tashichi Ogi (Saburo Ishikura) and Funahachi (Koji Koike). He helps an old woman and she lodges him at her home. Zatôichi gambles and the old lady's nephew, a complete loser, becomes close to him and Zatôichi helps him in the bets. They meet the geishas Seitaro 'Osei' Naruto (Daigorô Tachibana) and Okinu Naruto (Yuuko Daike), actually a brother and a sister that have been chasing the killers of their parents, Inosuke, Tashichi and Kuchinawa, for ten years seeking revenge. When the ronin Shinkichi (Gadarukanaru Taka) offers his service of bodyguard to Ginzo, the boss decide to destroy the Funachi gang and join to Ogi later. But Zatôichi decides to help the village and get rid off the criminals.

"Zatôichi" is a good movie of Takeshi Kitano visibly inspired in "Sanjuro", of Master Akira Kurosawa. The gore story has adventure, excellent choreography in the sword fights and lots of humor; there is a samurai without a master offering his services of bodyguard to a gang in a small town; and in the end, the gangs are destroyed; therefore there are many points very similar to Sanjuro. The parallel plots are well constructed and the cinematography is very beautiful, highlighting the blood in the sword fights. My vote is nine.

Title (Brazil): "Zatoichi"
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dancing Zatoichi
winner5528 June 2006
beat takeshi's tribute to shintaro katsu has been a little controversial as one could have predicted. The final entry of the series, directed by shintaro katsu himself, was also controversial, since it is the bloodiest, most uncompromising, and most swiftly paced of that series, presenting us with pretty raw film with some unsettling themes. - ultimately, zatoichi leaves the world pretty much as corrupted by yakusa as he first finds it.

takeshi's zatoichi comes to us very stylized - blond, with clean clothes, a very neatly crafted sword cane. The violence is augmented by CGI blood spurting (in the documentary accompanying the film on DVD, takeshi is frank that he wanted the blood to look a little phony). And then there is the dance segment at the end, foreshadowed throughout the film by rhythmic natural sounds of men and women at work.

After trying to get a hold on this film and its clearly complex relationship to the original series, through multiple viewings of the film, I think I've finally grasped that the dance sequence is really the heart of the whole film. no matter what you think of it in relationship to the rest of the film, it's extremely entertaining ; so, perhaps that's all we need to know about this film - perhaps it's all we need to know about the original zatoichi series as well.

There is a strange question that recurs again and again in Takeshi's films - what do we do to entertain ourselves when death is near, and there's neither need nor possibility of accomplishing anything with a purpose? In most of Takeshi's films, the proper response to that question is to live life like a circus. Here, obviously, salvation is to be found in dance. I'm not sure that these answers are satisfactory; but the question is too disturbing to ignore.
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storyofthefifthpeach1 January 2006
I am amazed that people are rating this film so highly. Yes, it is violent. But the original Zatoichi was not just violent—it was also well thought out. And the actor had a certain charm completely lacking here. To sum up: Lots of stupidity (really stupid plot), some senseless violence, some bad jokes and . . . tap-dancing.

A depressing waste of time.

I am not saying that there are not a few entertaining scenes, but overall it is simply a bad film. It seems like the writers didn't know how to properly string together the plot.

If you want to see Zatoichi, see one of the old films. There are over 20, and all of them are better than this. Or, for a more recent film, see Twilight Samurai.
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Good film about a blind samurai swordsman who helps unfortunate people
ma-cortes3 November 2004
The movie centers on Zaitochi , a swordsman who helps and saves hapless villagers . He's a ¨Ronin¨, a samurai without master . He will have to face a villain and a nasty gang . In the movie there is noisy action , Japan sword fights , high body count , emotion, violence and lots of gore because of the murders are pretty savage . The blood in the film has been described by many as being "too CGI". Kitano did this intentionally , wanting to "soften the shock to the audience" due to the brutal massacres . Kitano told the CGI artist he wanted the blood to "look like flowers blossoming across the screen" . The fighting stage is similar to ¨Kill Bill¨ saga . Kitano said that he wished the struggles to be as realistic as possible, but that he wanted the blood to be extremely exaggerated . The runtime film is overlong and results to be slow moving in spite of the fights , which are fast moving and breathtaking , but the motion picture is a little boring. Two hours and some are a bit tiring . The picture obtained much success around the world and specially in Japan .

Interpretation and direction by Takeshi Kitano is riveting , it's his best film . The ending confrontation between the starring and the enemies is overwhelming and impressive . The final dance set piece is a tribute to many of the popular Japanese movies, in which the Hollywood-style happy ending was followed by a sudden "burst into song" , as Kitano wanted to attempt this , but in a different type of way . Kitano combined traditional Kabuki theatre clog-dancing with "the latest African-American tap style" . This dance sequence features all of the villagers, but not the villains , the reason for not including Zatôichi into the sequence was because Kitano felt that he was more of a villain than a good man . Film will appeal to strong emotions lovers and Takeshi Kitano fans. Rating: 6,5/10 . Good .
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I thought it was overrated (spoilers)
dj_bassett15 August 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Zatoichi wanders into a small village dominated by gangs: in traditional Wild West fashion, he cleans house.

This was my first Zatoichi and Kitano movie, which might explain my lukewarm feelings -- apparently people who know Kitano's work are much more impressed by this. I thought the movie was okay, nothing great, and certainly not deserving of the plaudits being heaped on it.

The pacing is all off -- scenes that should last for a minute or two (a lengthy montage between the geishas as children and the geishas today) go on interminably, while scenes that need a bit more foreplay (the run up to the big battles in the courtyard and against the ronin/bodyguard) are too brief. The story is relatively simple, even cliched, which is fine except Kitano doesn't seem to know where to focus his attention: either the geishas or the ronin are more interesting characters than Zatoichi himself, and deserved either much more screentime or much less. As it stands they feel like "types" more than living breathing characters, figures in need of development.

The fight scenes are okay but overrated: if you've seen any samurai movies before you've seen better stuff. Yes, they're bloody, but not unusally so: check out AZUMI for a better use of gory effects.

It is very funny in spots, which is apparently typical of Kitano's work. The best sequence by far is the concluding tap dance number, which feels utterly natural and joyous, if more than a bit absurd. But there's my problem with this movie in a nutshell: if the best things in your action movie are the jokes and musical number, you're in trouble.

It's okay, just overrated. AZUMI is a wilder ride, TWILIGHT SAMURAI a far more interesting attempt at doing something interesting within genre conventions.
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The most entertaining movie I've seen in a while.
patathomas15 March 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I'm not an Asian movie expert, or any kind of movie expert, and there are not many movies I bother watching. Most of them are boring dribble. However, I have a few Asian movies (Roshomon, Yojimbo, Raise the Red Lantern, Ten to Chi to), and I plan to add this one. I enjoyed the music, especially when it was synchronized with work movements and other actions. Mainstream humor is not usually funny to me. The humor in "Zatoichi" made me laugh out loud throughout the movie. And, I laughed the longest and hardest during the dance scene at the end because it was such a great ongoing parody of different musical genres and periods, involving 60 dancers and including a lot of the cast. It transitioned from Shintu performance, to river dance, to Hollywood 30s-like tap extravaganza, to the 3 out-front tap dancers in green (a la the Stepp Brothers - an act that performed in early Hollywood musicals, and I think maybe on the Ed Sullivan Show, as well), to a wrap-up with the look and style of a Bollywood musical production number (camera angles & smooth, flowing, synchronized movements). I was howling by then. That, in itself made watching "Zatoichi" worthwhile. But, I just really liked the whole movie, and I can't explain exactly why because the blood and gore were a bit over the top for me. There were many reasons, and then again, maybe it was just the anticipation of seeing what surprise would come next.
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One of a kind fabulous fantasy
lleeheflin5 February 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Since most of the other comments detail the plot, I won't go into that here. Save to say that the story is, by and large, the least interesting thing about this wonderful film. It is what Kitano does with a simplistic genre story line that compels the viewer to engage with the story. And he does this by making all of the central 'characters' into believable people that you can take an interest in and care about. As is the case with so-called 'real life', it is not the 'big picture' that is of interest here but rather how boring reality is played out moment to moment that tells the real tale of life. In the midst of the on going humdrum routine are flashes of real beauty, comedy, tragedy, horror, and 'mystery'. It is 'believable' in the same sense that our own lives are believable.

But in the film this kernel of reality is played out on the stage of cinematic art. And Kitano obviously has a fantastic artistic sensibility. From the first moment to the last the film is truly stunning to look at. The color, the frame composition, the camera movement, the action of the actors are all created and combined to delight the eye/mind and to propel the story forward. This is further enhanced by the use of natural sound and music. The music score is wonderful! And the several times when the natural sounds of the action are woven into the music as integral parts of the music are truly delicious.

The viewer is never allowed to forget for long that this is a movie and at the same time a piece of movie art. This is especially true at the film's conclusion, it's GRAND FINALE!! Much has been said of the film's musical ending. Every comment that mentions it is a spoiler for sure. I was lucky in that, while I knew something of the 'Zatoichi' story, I knew virtually nothing about this particular version. So Kitano's ending came upon me a complete, and in the end, overwhelming surprise! Since the 'cat' is well out of the bag in all these comments, it can't spoil it any more for me to say: Who would have anticipated a full blown Broadway Musical Grand Finale AND have it work stupendously!! And why not? The bad guys have been vanquished with blood sweat and tears. The good gals and guys are victorious. God is in IT'S heaven and all is right with the world (at least for the moment) so why not celebrate? Which is precisely what the people do. (It just occurred to me that this ending is very much like the ending of SHREK!) They have a 'festival'. And what is a festival without music and dancing.

In this case the music and dancing are straight out of the realm of the extraordinary KOTO DRUMMERS in which percussion music is taken into wild and wonderfully new places. (Remember STOMP!!) I could write a million words about this ending and still not capture it at all. So I won't try. I will just say that if you have any 'soul' at all, you will be dancing with joy yourself and thanking Kitano with all your heart that he had the 'soul' to end his film on this note. It is a moment of pure joy!! But it is not, in fact, the 'end' of the film. At the very end Zatoichi approaches the festivities and stumbles upon his own moment of 'truth' and in that instant brings the whole trip into 'perspective'. It was the final 'catch' of one's breath.

As I have tried to point out in all of the comments I have written for IMDb, any work of art must be approached on it's own terms. It cannot be criticized for not being some other work of art. This movie is the movie it is in the very best sense possible, and is, I think, almost certainly the movie Kitano set out to make. I for one, congratulate him for being absolutely successful in making a really great movie!!
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Stunning and beautiful.
ks414 March 2004
I've never seen a Takeshi Kitano movie before, but i've heard about them, and this looked like a really good movie in the days of Samurai fighting movies.

In a movie that at times are a bit confusing, but at other times so damn well directed i didnt' really know which leg to lean on, that's the biggest problem with the movie i feel, some things are left unexplained and you get confused a bit at times, but in the end it all sums up pretty well after all, something i didn't expect.

Now the coolest thing of this movie was definitely the fighting scenes, they were really brilliant, what is so great about them is not only that they are there and they do look great, but they step aside from the monotonous american action movies, where you got A beating up B, then B beating up A, and then around again that way, these are finished off quickly and realistically, and yet they still manage to impress you amazingly, especially the final battle was well done, i came to think that was how they should have made the final battle of Matrix 3 look like, but well.. Very cool fighting scenes, thats the outstanding part of this movie.

The directing is pretty well done also, although at times confusing and complex as mentioned before.

But if you're into a symbolic and stunning action movie then this is definitely worth checking out, there are of course times of the movie where it spends maybe to much time playing music and drumming etc, sorta like the chinese movie Hero (2003), where there is also spend a lot of time doing that, perhaps that's just how it goes for asian movies, but that's ok as long as it doesn't bore one to death while doing it.

And another thing, the cinematography is pretty well done and looks pretty damn good at times.

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The worst Samurai movie I've EVER seen!
savageogre17 August 2008
This movie had so many flaws that if I have to mention them all, it would take forever..

To start with; the storyline - you don't get ANY information about who is who, or what the h**** is going on, until half ways in the movie. This could work if the movie director is skilled enough in cutting the scenes together and making it clear for the viewer what is happening in the plot.

This movie is just one of a thousand bad B-rated movies out there, the hero kills everyone, get a little banged up before the last fight, and the story ends.. Even Steven Seagal movies are better put together than this one.. Seriously, the hero does some pretty un-called for stuff..and is clearly on a power-trip throughout the movie..

The editing in this movie is some of the worst I've ever seen, you don't know when they are having flashbacks, or why they suddenly jump from one scene to another without any introductions or anything... the visual effects also looked extremely fake, this is NOTHING like the old samurai movies, not by a long shot..

There are so many things wrong with this movie that I can't mention them all.. but this was for me one of the worst movie-experiences ever..
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Tried a lot and failed with everything
Ajaya8 August 2004
Takeshi Kitano's 'Zatoichi' was certainly the most disappointing movie of the year so far. Takeshi Kitano tried so much and failed with everything. I can't even say 'nice try' because his trying is just boring, dilettantish, uninspired and most uncineastic.

Frankly, I can't understand all this fuss about this movie, calling it 'a masterpiece'. It's neither a good action drama nor a good psychodrama nor a Zen movie nor visually impressive move. It's just .. crap – and cheap on top of it all. 'Ha ha!' is my comment when the director tells a yarn that all the badly done computer graphics – mostly for the splashing blood – was intended to be 'artificial' and so artistic.

It's much ado about nothing – Don't waste your time.

I gave it a 3 out of 10.
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Totally and completely overrated,
crowsdreamofdeth-117 July 2006
I am having an extremely difficult time understanding how anyone who has ever seen the original "Zatoichi" movies could possibly consider "Zatoichi 2003" a film that came even slightly close to an imitation of the originals. Although "Zatoichi 2003" was beautifully shot with lots of choreographed violence and action, the plot centers mostly on what I would have considered marginal characters rather than on what Zatoichi is doing. Zatoichi barely says anything in this film! Furthermore, the ending is absolutely preposterous and insultingly comical, making this mere below mediocre imitation of a flawless original feel even more like a parody than it was. "Zatoichi 2003" is to be enjoyed only by those who like their movies depth-less and with lots of meaningless action.
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Overrated samurai flick
Quebec_Dragon29 June 2009
I think Zatoichi is supposed to be some kind of stylish samurai action- dramatic comedy hybrid. I found it rather mediocre. For the action parts, you mostly get fight scenes of one blind samurai (title character) or a cool expressionless ronin (samurai without a master) slicing and dicing (literally) bunches of bad guys. They're fast and look neat with some cut members but little gore. According to the director, the intentionally exaggerated blood spurts are supposed to soften the violence. I'm torn between thinking whether they look fake or cool. The main character Zatoichi is played by the director and seems suitably frail, non-talkative and mysterious. Face close-ups of him are avoided until the end. I understand the reasoning behind those choices but it doesn't help character identification. However, it never gets old seeing bad guys underestimate him only to be dispatched so efficiently.

The weary ronin and his sick wife were fascinating. The geisha assassins were interesting characters but the adult actors didn't emote well at all so it was tough to relate. The comic secondary characters (the gambler and the idiot in particular) were disappointing. They were not developed enough and they didn't pay off. The humor fell really flat for me. I didn't smile once. The gambling scenes dragged on and were boring. I could only take so much odd-even dice gambling. I do give some credit to the story for subverting some genre conventions such as building up upcoming epic duels only to have them work out another way. However, in those particular instances, it can be unsatisfying. The directing was conventional except for the fight scenes. I cannot evaluate how accurate the translations were but I was impressed by the professional quality of the dubbing and voice choices in french. Some of the best I've ever heard for an Asian film. There's an overly long group dancing number at the end that simply doesn't fit. It worked in Slumdog Millionnaire, it certainly doesn't work here. Overall, the film doesn't work as a comedy, doesn't really move you as a drama and it barely works as action but leaves you hungry for more. There are much better choices for samurai period films and for me Zatoichi is way overrated. For me, it's not really worth renting unless you're a fan of the director.

Rating: 5 out of 10.
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