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Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2004 1 Jan
Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi
from Film Forum, 09/09/04

There have been many Japanese movies made about the blind warrior named Zatoichi. But none of them have been directed by the popular director Takeshi Kitano. In The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi, Kitano does more than direct the stylish action sequences and surprising musical numbers—he also plays the lead role!

This Zatoichi adventure concerns the arrival of the blind swordsman in a small town where bad guys have been brutalizing the townsfolk. Like the hero in a Clint Eastwood western or an Akira Kurosawa samurai epic, Zatoichi becomes the equalizer in a fearful and oppressed community. Full of bizarre and abrupt changes in tone and style, and populated with memorably zany supporting characters, Kitano's film is entertaining, but disposable.

Josh Hurst (Reveal) says, "Style over substance. The phrase wasn't ever meant to be a credo, but many filmmakers seem to turn it into one. And very few movies in recent memory have been as monumentally shallow as The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi. The plot is flimsy, at best, little more than a vehicle to move the swordsman from one brutal killing to another." He adds, "In Kitano's defense, his film has a few sharply funny comedic moments, and Keiichi Suzuki's quirky score proves to be stirring and effective. But such stylistic triumphs hardly make up for this otherwise superficial and boring piece of filmmaking."

J. Robert Parks (Looking Closer) calls the film "a serviceable genre effort that will please the sword fighting fans among us. But there's also not much substance to it. The movie's final scene is a fantastically energetic dance sequence that might be worth the price of admission. If only the rest of the film lived up to that."

Most mainstream critics seem more impressed by the film.