The Blind Swordsman II
By Mike Derderian
Now that Kohji Yamoto is dead, a lot of passengers, just like me, were able to safely board the coaster bus. Many tried to thank the mysterious blind man for saving them, but alas he was nowhere in sight. Just like Zatoichi, the blind swordsman, he was gone with the wind that blew from the southlands, where nobility, humbleness and real courage inhibit the hearts of its gentle people.
When I first started working with The Star I was no more than a freelance writer and a master-less essayist. I was a ronin—a samurai, who under the feudal system in Japan was either renounced by his clan for failing in performing his duties or was discharged after being ostracized by his master. As a result he has become a wanderer without a lord to serve or protect; an outcast that was willing to take on illicit jobs just like Hattori Genosuke (Tadanobu Asano) in Kitano’s 2003 The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi that we so briefly talked about in last week’s column.
Kitano’s film is a fusion between violence and comedy, void of the commercial oriental mumbo-jumbo philosophy we usually hear in samurai and ninja films. The only philosophy you’ll get out of this film is that nothing is actually what it seems to be.
Great acting on part of Kitano, hilarious subtitles (or dialogue—the film is in Japanese) and a solid logical plot proves that Japanese films rock. Each character was given enough screen time so that the viewer would be able to understand their backgrounds and grasp the general plot of the film.
Upon arriving to the a secluded village that was dominated by two warring gangs little did Zatoichi know that he will meet with the assassin sister geishas O-Kinu and O-Sei, who were from the rich Narato family that was brutally killed and robbed by a powerful gang. The two geishas, who artistically strangle their victim with Zither strings before one of them thrusts a sword into his back, are seeking revenge from the crime bosses responsible for killing their family.
Both Daigoro Tachibana and Yuuko Daike gave a convincing performance as the two geishas, whom Zatoichi decides to help. But wait, the plot thickens for there is a great secret that lies behind the two geishas—but, of course, I won’t tell you.
Kitano’s cinematography captures the simplicity of the 17th century Japanese countryside, which is calm, peaceful and smooth. Yet, no sooner Zatoichi pulls his blade bodies begin to fall and blood fills the screen revealing the ugly and harsh side of that life.
However, one will notice that during the fight scenes and in order to ease the viewer’s tension resulting from the graphic death scenes, Kitano decided to utilize Computer Generated Images (CGI) effects in creating the bloody scenes. Brutal as they may appear from first glance the killing scenes aren’t disturbing at all. The obvious and intended artificiality helped in making the fight scenes easy going and entertaining.
Having an interest in music and choreography, Kitano humorously slips in a musical soundtrack similar to the sounds created by American group Stomp that was popular in the nineties. We see four villagers with forks and hoes digging their land; the noise coming out of their tools formed the soundtrack to many of the film’s scenes.
Genosuke (Tadanobu Asano), Zatoichi main adversary isn’t exactly “the villain” in the film. He is only an outcast samurai seeking a job. Sadly he has to work for the very same crime bosses Zatoichi is trying to exterminate so the chances are that he would face Zatoichi sooner or later. Since both men are familiar with the language of the sword it is difficult to determine who will win once they meet, the blind old man or the young merciless samurai?
For a few moments in the film the viewer finds himself sympathizing with Genosuke and his ill wife O-Shino (Yui Natsukawa), who silently watches her husband’s savagery in killing his opponents. O-Shino’s final scene is one of the most dramatic images in the film. You really can’t say a thing about the showdown between Zatoichi and Genosuke, but you’ll like it.
Other versatile characters in the film include the old woman known as aunt O-Ume (Michiyo Ookusu), who welcomes Zatoichi in her house and asks him to help her with her gambling nephew Shinkichi (Gadarukanaru Taka), who likes to spend most of his time gambling at one of the gang’s headquarters.
The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi is a fun film filled with laughs and, unlike other samurai films, it won’t stress your heart as blood splutters all over the place. A blind man single-handedly defeating dozens of young samurais is something worth watching.
You’ll love every moment of it, especially the scene where the villagers perform brilliantly a dance, in which Kitano splendidly combines the traditional Kabuki theatre clog dancing with the African-American tap dance style.
A man of little words but a lot of action, Zatoichi’s wisest words came near the end, “even with my eyes wide open I can’t see a thing.” So dear reader, close your eyes and listen carefully, for you might see better with blind fury, which is the title of next week’s film madein 1989 and starring Rutger Hauer.