Takeshi "Beat" Kitano, the Japanese actor-director best known in the US for his quirky, ulraviolent gangster movies (Fireworks
) and in the UK (among satellite and cable viewers, at least) for the bizarre It's a Knockout
gameshow Takeshi's Castle, applies his off-kilter sensibility to the samurai genre in The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi
. A blind masseur (Kitano with his hair dyed white) wanders into a small town divided up by rival gangs. Though hunched and shuffling, Zatoichi soon reveals his deadly skills as a swordsman. He befriends a pair of geisha girls with secrets of their own and helps them hunt down the bandits who killed their parents. But one of the gangs has just hired a ronin, a masterless samurai, whose fighting skill may equal the blind swordsman's.
Zatoichi mixes a melodramatic storyline, deadpan comedy, and dazzling, CGI-enhanced swordfights into a supremely entertaining package. In Japan, Zatoichi is a recurring character in popular action movies, but Kitano places his own unique stamp on the series. --Bret Fetzer
Takeshi Kitano's dazzling film is a thrilling tale of swordplay and adventure set in 19th Century Japan. Zatoichi ('Beat' Takeshi) is a blind wanderer whose humble facade disguises his prodigious skills as a master swordsman, gifted with a lightning fast draw and strokes of breathtaking precision. Arriving in a remote mountain town, he finds its people terrorised by the ruthless Ginzo gang and their mighty samurai ronin Hattori, who mercilessly dispose of all who get in their way. With his legendary cane sword at his side, Zatoichi's path is destined for many violent confrontations...