The Sixth Estate
Sunday, September 07, 2003

Beat Takeshi is Zatoichi.

I was so psyched to see this movie, I woke up at 8 AM. It was Saturday and this was an unusual occurance for me.

I was going to see Zatoichi at 2:30 PM at the Elgin Theatre in the heart of downtown Toronto. Yes, it would be a good day.

I arrived at the Elgin at 12:15 PM, and was pleased to discover I was the first person in line. For anyone who was there, I was the fly bastard in the Scarface T-shirt and aviators. Several hours of waiting and some poutine later, they opened the doors.

Though I was first in line I still sprinted down the hallways of the Elgin, afraid some usurper fanboy would rob me of my rightful seat. Thankfully this did not happen, and I wasn't forced to drop kick anyone off the balcony. Front row centre on the balcony, perfect view, truly the best seats in the house.

After a short introduction, and a word from our sponsors the film began.

I don't want to give you a plot synopsis, instead I'll outline some of the reasons you should see this flick.

If you are a fan of Japanese cinema, samurai flicks, the original Zatoichi or Takeshi Kitano ... it is your duty to see this movie. I went to see it with two guys (Craig and Chris) who'd never seen a Kitano film, and little... if any Japanese cinema... and they were floored by the movie.

The action scenes are some of the coolest sword fights EVER put on film. Remember to bring water because your jaw will be on the floor during every fight scene. That's the only way they can be described JAW DROPPING.

The swordplay is lightning fast, bloody as hell and incredible to behold. You really get to see what a sword is capable of in the hands of a master like Zatoichi. Get ready for flying limbs and the sound of steel cutting through flesh and bone. The violence is by no means cartoony; but stylized and brutally realistic. Ah the Japanese and stylized violence... they're so good at it. I found myself disturbed and in awe all at once.

Brilliant action sequencecs aside, this movie will also have you laughing your ass off throughout. The humor is subtle at times, and slapstick at others. Kitano's deadpan wit as Zatoichi is classic. There is also an excellent comedic performance by Taka Gadarukanaru who plays the gambling addicted nephew of Oume.

The plot ain't bad either... dare I say a little Yojimbo/Sanjuro-esque. But hey it's a good example to follow. Rival gangs bossing meak townspeople and farmers around, Two mysterious and incredibly skilled swordsmen find themselves embroiled in the conflict and on opposite sides. With the entire film building up to their climactic duel. This is essentially the plot, but there are many twists and substories that make it more than standard fare. The premise may seem a little formulaic but it's execution is far from it.

With several subplots involving everything from revenge, honor, family and even sexual identity the movie is far from boring. Information about characters is revealed through slick flashbacks that work well with the rest of the film.

Takeshi Kitano is a very gifted director, but you don't need me to tell you that. Many scenes have little or no dialogue and instead the audience is given a simple beat or rhythm that builds into a full fledged score. Kitano's use of sound in this movie is superb.

The farmers pound the field as Zatoichi slowly trundles by, the beat of the farmers pounding continues and adds to the clang of armor and weapons as a group of soldiers marches past.

These rhythms then evolve into music and so on and so forth. It's a very cool effect, and Kitano uses it well in many scenes.

I also must mention the stellar badass that Tadanobu Asano (Who aslo stars with 'Beat' in Taboo, for those of you who didn't see it because you were afraid of gay samurai) plays in this film. The stoic ronin Gennosuke Hattori is a good man who has just had a streak of misfortune. He is a dishonored masterless samurai, with a sick wife and no means to support her. He is forced to do bodyguard work for the local gang. He doesn't want to do it, but if he has to kill a few people to help his wife get better... so be it. A stand out performance by Asano in this film.

A few criticisms though... The CGI used during the fight scenes is amazing for the most part, but there are a few instances where you can really tell it's a fake sword blowing through some hapless bastards chest cavity. Most of the time though the action is too fast to notice these small problems anyways.

As well... the big dance number at the end... went on a little too long I think. But that's just me... I'm not a song and dance guy... so sue me.

A few points of interest: WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD.

One of the Geisha assassins is a man, baby ! If you couldn't tell pretty quickly... well maybe it's time you reevaluate where you stand sexually.

They don't call Pops and Gramps... Pops and Gramps for nothing.

The final confronation between Zatoichi and Gennosuke is lightning fast and Gennosuke gets his ass whooped !

END Spoilers

This movie was so much fun... I highly recommend you catch it if you can.

A+, Two Thumbs Up, Four Stars !

Will "RoninKengo" Perkins


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