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Zatoichi - Preview



Preview by: Jack Foley

JAPANESE cinema, while extreme in places, continues to deliver some of the better movies of any year, which consistently perform well on the festival circuit, and prompt bidding wars between all of the major companies.

This year’s hot favourite is Takeshi Kitano’s latest, Zatoichi, in which the highly-acclaimed film-maker portrays a blind swordsman who rescues a village that is run by gangsters and samurai.

It is being screened at the London Film Festival on November 5, having already played to great acclaim at both the Venice and Toronto film festivals, and being acquired by Miramax for wider distribution over the coming months.

In Venice, Zatoichi won Kitano the Silver Lion for best director, as well as the audience award, while it also took the People’s Award in Toronto.

Kitano, who previously directed Hana-bi, Sonatine, and Brother, and who also appeared in the memorable Battle Royale (the sequel to which is also being screened at the London Film Festival), both directs and stars in the film, with Tadanobu Asano.

The character, Zatoichi, little known in the west (although many of the films are now available on local or import DVDs), was created in 1962, by Shintaro Katsu.

Blind, he roams late-feudal Japan as a yakuza, working as a masseur and indulging his fondness for gambling, drinking and other minor vices.

Thanks to heightened senses of hearing and smell, however, he’s also one of Japan’s most skilled swordsmen, using a cane sword and practising the iai technique with superb precision and speed.

In an understated way, he also enjoys the odd little bit of social engineering, occasionally righting the odd wrong, deflating the odd pompous tyrant, and showing the odd woman that not all men are irredeemable scumbags.

Katsu’s indelible performances took Zatoichi through 26 movies and a five-year TV series, making him the most beloved culture-hero in Japanese history.

Katsu died in 1997, but his memory remains a popular part of Japanese culture and ‘Beat’ Takeshi even parodied Zatoichi in his anarchic comedy, Getting Any?

Now, however, he takes on the character for real, returning to the original author, Kan Shimozawa, for inspiration.

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