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Zatoichi (The Blind Swordsman) - Blu-ray DVD / action adventure DVD / international and foreign language DVD review
ZATOICHI: THE BLIND SWORDSMAN Rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America curledupdvd.com rating: 4 stars
Featuring: Takeshi Kitano, Tadanobu Asano, Daigorô Tachibana, Gadarukanaru Taka, Ittoku Kishibe
Director: dir. Takeshi Kitano Studio: Miramax
DVD release: 15 September 2009 Runtime: 116 min.
(1 disc)
Format: Color, Subtitled, Widescreen, Blu-ray
DVD features: 1080p High Definition, Aspect ratio 1.85:1, Audio tracks (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 - English; Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround - Japanese; Dolby Digital 2.0 - Spanish), Subtitles (English SDH, Spanish), Behind-the-scenes special, Exclusive interviews with crew

The character of Zatoichi is not new to Japanese audiences. There have been 28 Zatoichi films since 1962, and one Americanization (Blind Fury with Rutger Hauer). What director and star Takeshi Kitano has done is reinvent the character in a more stylized way. The final product is excellent and couldn't exist without its predecessors.

A blind masseuse comes to a small town beset by gang problems. The Ginzo gang mostly runs things, with some opposition from the Ogi gang. The citizens get shaken down on an increasingly regular basis, and tensions are on the rise. The Masseuse helps Aunt Oume (Michiyo Ookusu) with her groceries, and she offers him a place to stay. He's a pleasant sort who seems to spend a lot of time laughing about jokes evident only to him. He is known only as The Masseuse, though some of the thugs suspect he may be the legendary swordsman Zatoichi. The Masseuse has a way of getting involved without seeming to do so.

Boss Ginzo (Ittoku Kishibe) hires a ronin (a masterless samurai) who may be just as cunning with a blade as the Masseuse: Hattori (Tadanobu Asano), who finds it necessary to take the thug-work he so detests to pay for his ailing wife's medicine.

Also, a pair of mercenary Geisha are looking to exact their own revenge against the Ginzo gang. Okinu (Yűko Daike) and Osei (Daigorô Tachibana) play the shamisen and dance for their victims before revealing hidden blades.

The pacing and style of the film is the most alluring quality of Zatoichi and is much like the Masseuse himself, with strange moments of sublime joy in juxtaposition to scenes of sudden and extreme violence. The fight scenes are quick and deliberate, as was the true nature of real samurai battles. The film's faults lie only in the special effects. Much of the extreme swordplay is done in CGI - not entirely a bad thing, as it can show more extreme bodily harm than most actors are willing to subject themselves to, but the quality lacks somewhat and takes the viewer out of the moment.

The extras are pretty sparse, but the film itself is worth owning the Blu-ray for.

This edition of 2003's Zatoichi, with DTS-HD 5.1 Master audio and crisp 1080p resolution, is also newly available in a box set with three other contemporary martial arts on Blu-ray: The Legend of Drunken Master, Iron Monkey, and Hero.
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reviewed by Eric Renshaw
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