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Zatoichi

Caught Takeshi Kitano's new film Zatoichi today.

It's been out for a while, but I've been kind of busy, with work and, well, just work, really. Different kinds. But today I said fuck it, and took the pile of assignments I have, and put them into a large box. Then I slapped some postage on that box and jammed it into the mail box and mailed it to myself. Just couldn't handle the continual stare of the assignments, and I know how whiny students get when I burn them, so I sent them away. When they return from Iceland in about a month, I'll have regained the energy to watch them. My friend said to me, as I carried to box to the parcel bin, "Why don't you just mark them and stop complaining?"

"It's Sunday," I replied.

"What's that got to do with it?"

"What did God do on Sunday?"

That began the reaccuring debate on how I am not God, but I pointed out how I have these assignments, and how on a just my not receiving the right kind of kick back, or if I've received a rejection that day, I can fail someone just to make the world a fair and equitable place. In response, she called me a nasty cunt, and I said, "Just like God," and in agreement, we then headed off into Circular Quay to watch Beat Takeshi as a blonde and blind sword wielding masseur.

That little interjection aside, and not pausing to dwell on the continual support of the clown buskers at the Quay, I quite enjoyed myself with Zatoichi.

This is possibly because I've found something to like in all the Takeshi Kitano films I've seen, even Brother, which I figure is the weakest of the ones I have seen. And I quite like Takeshi Kitano when he puts on his actor name of Beat Takeshi, and steps onto the screen. Nearly always silent in the films that he directs--his dialogue never stretches beyond a sentence or two--but with that craggy, stern face of his, I find him quite mesmerising. Even his twitches. This time out, having dyed his hair blonde, he plays the wandering masseur and master swordsman, Zatoichi, who ends up in a corrupt town and, in what isn't a spoil, cuts his way to the heart of it.

Around Zatoichi are the characters that motivate the film: Aunt O-Ume, a middle aged peasant farmer struggling to survive in a town run by crooks, Shinkichi, her nephew and bad gambler, the two geishas, O-Sei and O-Kino, and the bodyguard Gennosuke Hattori and his wife. The film maps out each of these characters to show what has brought them to the town, and there current position, while progressing the main narrative of the film, which is one gang coming into power, and that gang coming into contact with Zatoichi. While the story is essential a samurai film with a bit of comedy and a lot of action, Kitano has not spared the audience an element of tragedy. This is found in the story of the geishas, which is quite heartbreaking, and in the story of the bodyguard, who takes up work with one of the gangs to get enough money to buy a cure for his wife's sickness. In a film where Kitano could have played standard black and white heroes and villains, he neatly steps aside from this, and offers up a variety of greys.

Indeed, his own Zatoichi, is perhaps the least sympathetic character of the film. Keeping the mystery around him, Kitano offers no back story on the swordsman, and no real reason for his actions. He has simply shown up in the town and gotten involved when Aunt O-Ume takes him in, but there is no character motivation for him to attack the gangs. He could have walked out, could have not drawn his sword from the lovely red cane that he taps taps taps on the ground to find his way from place to place. This is a deliberate choice on Kitano's part, since the back stories of the other characters has been laid out in a series of back flashes, leaving the viewer with a very clear sense of what motivates them.

Outside the characters, what is most striking about Zatoichi is the violence, and the use of musical beats throughout the town and its peasant lifestyle. The violence is quick, well coegraphed, and resulting in hacked limbs and blood sprays and splatters shown in an over the top, cartoonish style, removing it from any type of a realistic tone. In the background--the beat from the village--creates a tempo that rises throughout the film, building towards a final crescendo that is the village festival. Combine this with a generous streak of comedy, and the end is a tone that emphasises the fun and light heartedness of a story that involves a blind, sword wielding masseur moving from town to town to right wrongs in a good old fashioned bloody way.

Anyhow, I guess what I'm saying here, is Zatoichi's worth seeing.

Now, to go and set a certain mailbox on fire.

Comments

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nick_kaufmann
Sep. 26th, 2004 09:29 am (UTC)
I liked Zatoichi a lot, despite all the anachronistic tap dancing at the end. But fans of the old Zatoichi movies, I've discovered, don't like it. They say the "real" Zatoichi wouldn't have done some of the things Takeshi did in the movie, like slash up the gambling house--and even as someone who's never seen the old movies, I admit that scene caused me to raise an eyebrow too--nor would Zatoichi ever pretend not to be blind, as that would be dishonorable. But still, I personally liked it a lot.
benpeek
Sep. 26th, 2004 04:57 pm (UTC)
yeah, i got to admit that zatoichi was pretty eager to go and slice people up. his attack in he gambling house made me think that perhaps it was a bit of an overreaction, but that said, kitano's violence in his films has always bordered on that. they're is always that sudden, excessive moment of violence--there's a scene in BROTHER where he stabs one character in the eye with a broken bottle that is just like that, i think. so i saw it as a kitano thing.

never seen the original films, though, but i believe toshiro mifune stars in them, and that'd be worth the check out.

(i found the pretending not to be blind bit a touch unnecessary, myself.)
studebakerhawk
Sep. 26th, 2004 06:56 pm (UTC)
I saw Zatoichi in the state theatre for the colsing night of the Sydney film festival. And i really enjoyed it, too, as i enjoy basically all Takeshi films, especially Hana-Bi. I'm actually something of a fan of , who played the bad guy; he was in Gohatto and Ichi the Killer, both great films. I did kind of wig out during the final scenes, though... but dont want to spoil anything.

By the way, burn my assignment and i'll burn YOU!

Hm.
benpeek
Sep. 26th, 2004 07:35 pm (UTC)
if i had a buck every time someone said they'd burn me... well, i'd have about thirty bucks. but that's quite a bit when you think about how likely it is for people to threaten you with fire. it seems real popular round me.

i quite like hana-bi.
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