Zatoichi– a 2003 adaptation on the subject of the classic series of films and TV dramas- stars Beat Takeshi / Takeshi Kitano in the leading role as a blind samurai masquerading as a masseur. And it is to him that the movie ultimately bows, acknowledging his position at that time and place as a leader of his own genre of both the comic, and the graphically violent. Zatoichi- with its well-publicised use of computer-generated gore, bears a lot more resemblance to Tarantino’s Kill Bill than to other movies in the samurai canon. While the Samurai Trilogy of Yoji Yamada (most obviously the Twilight Samurai) are, to a large degree, studies of history and characters, and Yojiro Takita’s When the Last Sword Is Drawn a classical, samurai epic (with all the ‘harakiri’ that this entails), Zatoichi is style, action and humour.
This is better than Kill Bill though, for at least to me Tarantino’s two-parter got boring even while silouette’s of Uma Thurman flashed by. This is fast-paced, funny, and has a great supporting cast, including the geisha ‘sisters’ who are looking for revenge. This is both a samurai movie, and a Takeshi Kitano movie, which makes it unique. One final word for the ending- a wonderfully musical, choreographed scene, celebrating the villagers’ jubilation at Beat Takehi’s triumph. As they celebrate, so should we.