Friday, April 23, 2010

[DVD] Zatôichi (2003)

Draw on Three!

I'm always up for a good swordfighting flick, and it'll take a while to plough through the incredible backlog on the adventures of the Japanese blind masseur and master swordsman Zatoichi, so I'd figure it'll make some sense to just jump into the Takeshi Kitano version. There's something romanticized about having a blind swordsman possessing a superb set of sword play that literally catches everyone offguard, ripping things up into shreds in a blink of an eye, and Takeshi Kitano's Zatoichi does that with plenty of aplomb.

As the story goes, Zatoichi is wandering yet again, and soon befriends a compulsive gambler Shinkichi (Gadarukanaru Taka) and his aunt Oume (Michiyo Ookusu), as well as taking pity on two Geishas, or so it seems, who are out to avenge the murder of their household some ten years ago. Then there's the gang versus gang feud going on, which led to one side employing a skilled ronin Hattori Genosuke (Tadanobu Asano) desperate for any job so long as he earns enough for his wife's medical treatment.

The narrative seemed a little bit choppy with the incessant need to insert something arty, such as the farmers ploughing the land which comes with a commendable soundtrack which is music to the ears, and transitioning from scene to scene was sometimes jarring, not due to moments being left on the cutting room floor. The swordfights were also few and far between, so don’t hold your breath for something to happen. If it does, then because of his extreme prowess with the kantana hidden within his walking stick, fights rarely extend to a few minutes since enemies are dispatched mostly with a singular slash, which does get a little boring after a while, and turning fights that happen in the later parts of the film quite anti-climatic since it takes a gargantuan effort to inflict some damage on our blind swordsman.

Some would have complained about the copious amounts of CG blood flying around the screen, and it was more stylized than bloody good to be honest. Each slice and dice by his Zatoichi's blade comes complete with unmistakable sound effects to accentuate the swiftness of the sharp blade, and with blood either spraying out from arteries, or oozing in large amounts from muscles being sliced apart or skewered right through. With the CG blood the end result looks a little bit cartoony even.

There’s a twist to the Zatoichi tale that may have purist fans go up in arms about the change made, which I thought suited Kitano’s version pretty well, although it did rub off some of the shine of the legendary character. What didn’t sit down well with me was the Bollywood inspired dance ending that came complete with tap-dancing. It’s really out of place, and worst than how Danny Boyle did for Slumdog Millionaire. It brings you out of the era and the setting, so I’m not exactly sure why the need to do so, as surely there will be better ideas to end the film.

The two-disc Code 3 DVD comes presented in an anamorphic widescreen format, with a dubbed Cantonese audio track besides the original Japanese language track in 5.1 being made available. Subtitles are available in English and Traditional and Simplified Chinese.

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