Zatoichi Review

The Film

Audiences for many performance arts are given to clapping. In fact, it's basically polite to do so at the opera and the theatre. People also feel they have to at the end of music recitals and even popular music concerts(I checked that on Wikipedia as my knowledge of pop protocol is rather antiquated). It is very rare though, that a film gets a round of applause once it ends. Giggles, cheers and walkouts while it plays, but the modern cinema audience doesn't respond to the end of films with a period of appreciation as they are usually already trying to get out of the exit before anyone else. Of course it does happen sometimes, especially at festivals or when the film-maker is present, but I do believe that the end of Takeshi Kitano's Zatoichi is meant to elicit this response and I have to admit that in the regal splendour of the White living room more than a polite smattering was forthcoming.
The lack of a live artist to receive the audience's appreciation is probably the most important reason for this lack of immediate response, and let's face it Michael Bay and Uwe Boll will both live a lot longer because of the lack of spontaneous feedback visited on their persons. It is though something that Takeshi Kitano has always been used to, as a stand up comic and even in the confines of a TV studio, his audience has always been in front of him. In his cinema since Zatoichi, the response of the distant audience has become a secondary motivation as self reflexiveness and introspection has led Kitano to debate with himself rather than perform for others.

Zatoichi is exactly why the director should stop entertaining himself and move back to more of a performance ethic. It is a superb updating of a tale that had 25 previous incarnations in the cinema and many many hours on TV. It was a series that had got used to repeating itself in terms of both story and set pieces, and even if Shintaro Katsu's return in 1989 was a fine twist on this ageing character, Kitano's resuscitation is streets ahead in terms of both entertainment and art.
The plot ain't too novel as the blind swordsman is back to protect innocent villagers from warring gangs, and to visit a little comeuppance on the richly deserving. With a wry eye in terms of the humour and great flourishes from the dance troupe Stomp, Kitano replaces the repetitious and prosaic with a carnival like spirit. TK even has a deeply subversive twist in the tale which undermines the whole concept of the character before switching the gag back in a great piece of climactic slapstick.

The sword fights of the original films are matched and surpassed, and Kitano does this by returning to the traditional merits of chanbara. Still present in his style is the static moment before the action, but instead of jumping to the aftermath we get kinetic but economical movement, flashes of CGI blood and a rare sense of physical exhilaration. By varying his previous method, Kitano innovates a little but still leaves his actors to shine in the dramatic scenes.
My clapping was largely down to the energy that the finale generates. Cinema is often such a static medium that it's a pleasure if it shakes you from your seat, and Zatoichi does just that. Some talk of a sequel has come and gone, as have the rumours of a Miike Kitano collaboration, so the film will probably remain a one off. Zatoichi ends in a startling explosion of fun and dance, and ladies and gents, wherever you are, you should put your hands together and show your appreciation for this director's last great film.

Transfer and Sound

I have to admit that my set-up had problems with this transfer, I had to lower the refresh rate in order for the main feature to play properly on my Panasonic DMP-BD10A and my PC. The look of this film is quite in keeping with the earlier Zatoichi movies which often resemble westerns in this respect, the image is desaturated with browns, greys and blacks being the dominant shades and colours. The AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer is sharp, and detail is solid, if not spectacular, the contrast is excellent, and the edges seem unsullied by geeky hands. the file size for the feature is 17.7GB
The inclusion of a master audio track here is a cause for celebration and even with my downmixing receiver, the clarity and vitality of this track are superb. Sound moves through the channels as the camera perspective changes and the effects are mixed with strong directionality. The track really comes alive in the all dancing climax, and if you are given to that kind of thing, it will be hard to not join in and shake your stuff. The English subs are terrific, clear and a fine size.

Discs and Special Features

You get a single layer, region free disc with stylish menus and a host of extras all encoded in MPEG-2. The making of is narrated via subtitle and follows the film from being announced, through filming to its ecstatic reception at the Berlin Film Festival. Kitano and cast occasionally are interviewed, it's interesting enough but slightly cold for such a passionate movie.

In addition, Kitano is interviewed twice and he does repeat himself when dealing with why he took the project on, how he hoped to move the story on from the Katsu films and his desire to build to the musical climax. He is quite earnest and very serious about the project throughout. Other interviews come from his crew and they reveal how involved the director made himself in every aspect of their work, from choosing the dress of characters to setting a tone for the sword fights.

The trailer and short text based biography complete the special features which have English subs throughout.


This was the last known sighting of a great Kitano movie and it's a pleasure to get it in such detail and with such marvellous sound. The extras are no great shakes, but the film is always worth returning to.

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out of 10

Last updated: 18/06/2018 12:13:32

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