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The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi /Sonatine Double Feature [Import]
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Two Full-Length Movies - On Two Discs - From Acclaimed Director And Star Takeshi Kitano! The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi In an empire ruled by fear, the people's only hope is the ultimate weapon: Zatoichi (Kitano) - a blind, nomadic samurai whose sword has made him a hero and whose courage has made him a legend! Determined to help the desperate residents of a village, Zatoichi seeks justice through revenge! Sonatine A seasoned mobster travels to Okinawa on a "peacekeeping" mission, even though he suspects that his boss is secretly trying to eliminate him! Determined not to go down with out a fight, he and his gang know exactly what they have to do!
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Top Customer Reviews
I am NOT a fan of Norris or Segal or other one-dimensional Hollywood knock-offs that lack the exotic charm, otherworldliness, and richness of films made in Japan/Hong-Kong. You should also see Kung-Fu Hustle (which is stinkin' funny), the Five Deadly Venoms (great classic Kung-fu movie), Seven Samurai and Yojimbo (and other classic Akira Kurosawa films).
The humour is so smart and hilarious that it had me on my knees hitting the floor with my hands laughing my head off. The director does a magnificent job juxtaposing and playing straight completely absurd elements. Kind of reminds you of the dry absurd humour in the Royal Tannenbaums.
The fighting scenes are lightning fast and exciting. If you are looking for extended fighting sequences then this is not the movie for you. Unlike the standard revenge plot line of 1970s disco-era Kung-fu movies (i.e. "You killed teacher!" or its variants "You killed master/my brother/my father - now I must practice") this one has a lot of interesting and surprising twists and turns that keep you engaged in the story, and caring about the quirky characters.
The dance sequence at the end was just a tour de force capping off this smart and well-paced movie that plays like a wonderful dream from which you don't want to wake up.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This is not the 1960s Zatoichi, who was a more light-hearted character who often avoided conflict and was even prepared to play a buffoon to avoid violence. Not so here - Kitano stalks his prey relentlessly, like the former Yakusa he was. There is a very adult story spliced in here about the two gisha runaways (one is not who s(he) appears to be) so forget about pre-teens watching this one. Unlike many Samurai period pieces, there is a plot here which is serious and sad.
The unexpected bonus to this movie is the excellent musical soundtrack consisting of Taiko drumming and dancing, well worth cranking up on a home theater system. Peasants threshing rice beat out a syncopated background to a scene, and there is a big Taiko musical send up (not too different from some of the 1960s Zatochi musical numbers) at the end.
The plot centres around Zatoichi's battle against the local yakuza and their formidable samurai-for-hire (Ichi the Killer's Tadonabu Asano). There are showdowns aplenty and, when they do come, they're nothing if not spectacular. Digitally-enhanced, cartoony and extremely violent (think: severed limbs and gallons of blood aplenty), the fights are likely to polarise audiences almost as much as the film's climactic, er, tapdance sequence.
In between, we get a revenge drama involving a cross-dressing geisha, a wannabe samurai who charges around wearing little but armour and what looks like a nappy, slapstick galore and numerous musical interludes. In a similar vein to Lars von Trier's Dancer in the Dark, Kitano draws his soundtrack from ambient noises - as Zatoichi wanders, sightless, through the fields, the sounds of workers' hoes builds up into a natural rhythm. It's a cute effect, and one that's deftly employed here, compounding the sense that Zatoichi - though blind - is catching something that everyone around him misses.
What impresses most is how Kitano manages to draw such unlikely elements together and, moreover, make them work so well. I can think of few directors capable of flitting from slapstick to bloodbath, or domestic tragedy to musical setpiece, as convincingly or effortlessly. Even the aforementioned tapdance number, and a lengthy flashback/musical piece midway through, make a curious kind of sense on a second viewing.
Being a Japanese-language film, this one will inevitably get only a limited audience. Those who do make the effort, however, are in for a treat. It wouldn't be overstating the case to say that you've never seen anything quite like this before.
There is a special feature on the making of the movie and Kitano explains some of his ideas for the movie. My absolute favorite scene in this movie has become one of my favorite scenes in any movie, it is the showdown near the end of the movie where Zatoichi faces another skilled Samurai the other Samurai visualizes how he will defeat Zatoichi because the grip Zatoichi is using will allow him to be a fraction of a second faster, after visualizing this he looks up at Zatoichi and smiles. Zatoichi quickly changes his grip, momentarily throwing his opponent off guard, then attacks at once. He of course wins instantly.
I had expected that his remake of Zatoichi would become the most accessible of his films, but despite the samurai-film milieu, Kitano's style remains as difficult to grasp as ever. And the middle of the film lags quite a bit, when the back story of the two geishas and the gambling nephew's subplot take over and Zatoichi disappears for 20, 30 minutes straight.
But I'd seen enough Kitano films to be prepared for this. And the reward lies in stunning action choreography, beautiful cinematography, a terrific acting turn from Kitano himself, and some of the best sight gags in the Kitano catalogue. Comedy has always been the backbone of his films, and in Zatoichi he crafts some of his funniest situations and characters. Kitano himself is perfect for this role, with his immense physical presence, yet he constantly expresses that little odd sliver of tenderness and humour that has always made his characters so watchable.
What truly amazes are the action scenes. Characters move with grace and power, and the sound effects are realistic and pack a wallop -- no comic-book whooshes and noises here. Fight choreographer Tatsumi Nikamoto, in a short interview on this DVD, hits the nail on the head: Kitano uses his entire body to drive blows and directs his actors to do the same, making for kinetic swordplay scenes that rank with some of the best martial-arts scenes ever filmed. The choreography, shooting and editing here are leagues above Kill Bill Vol. 1's blood-spraying, overly edited scenes and won't even pale alongside some of Lau Chia-liang and Tang Chia's best work with Chang Cheh.
There are traces of Kurosawa's Yojimbo and Sanjuro in this film, in terms of the dark humour, the warring gangs, and the one-swift-blow approach towards duelling rather than clashing, extended swordfights, and watching Zatoichi cut a swath through the hordes, you might think Toshiro Mifune were still alive -- and that's a mighty feat.
The long period of waiting for plot progressions in the middle does cut into the enjoyment, and overall the pacing of this film is less accessible than Brother, but the best parts of Zatoichi are thrilling beyond words. A must-watch, though newcomers to Kitano are advised to check out Brother first.
One more word about this DVD: The strange cover and the "double bill" moniker may suggest this is a pirated copy, like one of those "10 Jackie Chan movies on one disc" releases by no-name companies, but looking at the disc, I think it's authentic. Miramax simply made a weird choice by including Sonatine in the package and making the package look inexplicably like those pulpier releases. Why Sonatine? I have no idea, since it has nothing to do with Zatoichi, despite being a pretty good film in itself. But the picture transfer on both films is good, the supplemental materials well put together, and everything suggests that this disc is indeed an official release. So don't be fooled by the packaging.
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