I’m almost embarrassed to say that Takeshi Kitano’s come-back film The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi is as good as it is, if only because its every bit as violent as Mel Gibson’s egregious The Passion of the Christ. But the difference between the two films is obvious: Gibson uses violence to oppress his people while Kitano uses it to liberate his. Zatoichi was a blind swordsman whose adventures were celebrated in Japan via a series of long-running films and TV specials starring the legendary Shintaro Katsu. Kitano’s take on the story is predictably gory, and though I can’t say I’m entirely comfortable with the sometimes gratuitous blood-splatter (or the less-than-stellar CGI during some sequences), Kitano does philosophically liken the spectacle of carnage to a restorative spiritual ritual. Is it any coincidence, then, that the film recalls the divine fervor of Dovshenko’s Earth and the aesthetic playfulness of Mamoulian’s Love Me Tonight? Zatoichi is a work of formal delirium and its every frame threatens to burst at the seams. For Kitano, violence is the meta of his films. In his masterpiece Fireworks, it’s a canvas. In Zatoichi, it’s a musical instrument. Naturally, the blind Zatoichi (Kitano) uses sound to connect to the world outside his head, and at times it’s as if the people around him are more than happy to guide him on his way. Behold the sight of farmers plowing the earth with their hoes, subversively synced to Keiichi Suzuki’s outstanding tribal score (fans of Sasha & Diggers will remember the pop star’s killer “Satellite Serenade”). The plot may be weightless—something about two geishas joining forces with Zatoichi to avenge the death of their family—but there’s no mistaking the film’s philosophical profundity. Kitano contemplates a strange, seductive relationship between the space inside Zatoichi’s head and the sounds of the world outside. This is the closest Kitano is ever likely to come to making a full-fledged musical, and it’s a great one at that. This is violence as a political act of restoration, a means of healing the past and engaging people spiritually in the present, and it all unravels as a spectacle of musical tribalism with an existential kick. It’s also fucking cool, and Kitano knows it too.
- Takeshi Kitano
- Takeshi Kitano
- Takeshi Kitano, Tadanobu Asano, Yui Natsukawa, Michiyo Ookusu, Gadarukanaru Taka, Yuuko Daike, Daigorô Tachibana, Ittoku Kishibe
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