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 years hot favourite is Takeshi Kitanos latest,
Zatoichi, in which the highly-acclaimed film-maker portrays a
blind swordsman who rescues a village that is run by gangsters
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 Peoples
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
Thanks to heightened senses of hearing and smell, however, hes
also one of Japans most skilled swordsmen, using a cane
sword and practising the iai technique with superb precision and
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.
Katsus 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.