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The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi [Blu-ray]
The Blind Swordsman Zatoichi
Blu-ray
Actors: Ittoku Kishibe, Beat Takeshi Kitano, Akira Emoto, Michiyo Okusa, Yui Natsukawa
Director: Takeshi Kitano
Genres: Action & Adventure, Indie & Art House, Comedy, Drama
R     2009     1hr 56min

Inventive and bold, this film shines with pristine picture and theater-quality sound on Blu-ray Disc. In an empire ruled by fear, the people's only hope is the ultimate weapon: Zatoichi (Takeshi Kitano) -- a blind, nomadic...  more »

     
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Movie Details

Actors: Ittoku Kishibe, Beat Takeshi Kitano, Akira Emoto, Michiyo Okusa, Yui Natsukawa
Director: Takeshi Kitano
Genres: Action & Adventure, Indie & Art House, Comedy, Drama
Sub-Genres: Action & Adventure, Indie & Art House, Comedy, Drama
Studio: Miramax Films
Format: Blu-ray - Color,Widescreen - Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 09/15/2009
Release Year: 2009
Run Time: 1hr 56min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 2
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 8
MPAA Rating: R (Restricted)
Languages: Japanese
Subtitles: English

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Movie Reviews

Unforgivable butchering of a masterpiece...
Kwisatz Haderack | 10/18/2009
(1 out of 5 stars)

"OK, let me get this straight: the disc comes with a documentary where the director of photography EXPLICITLY details how and why the director agreed to go with a desaturated color palette for this film. Unfortunately for him, the American version of this disc simply chose to ignore their wishes, saturating the color to make the film look "normal" for American audiences (since we are a bunch of neophytes who could not understand that the color was desaturated on purpose). Joe six-pack apparently also wants films that have been oversharpened, distorting the original film look. This, and not providing us with a high quality version of the original Japanese soundtrack (naturally that is reserved for the dubbed English version, since, again, American audiences cannot bother to read subtitles or care about hearing the original language of the film) make this version of the film on Blu-Ray a slap to the face of any discerning film lover."
Stick that up yer arthouse
J HADFIELD | Nagoya, Japan | 06/24/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Blending period drama, Shogun Assassin-style ultra-violence, comedy and Stomp-esque musical interludes, Takeshi Kitano's "Zatoichi" is probably the most audacious film to have come out of Japan so far this decade. Kitano - a former comedian who divides his time between gameshow appearances and producing violent gangster flicks - plays the eponymous hero, a blind but deadly samurai who gets off on gambling, chopping wood and putting wrongs to right. It's a masterful turn, and one that Kitano clearly relishes, twitching and chuckling to himself before dispatching enemies with a blink-and-you'll-miss-it flash of his blade.
The plot centres around Zatoichi's battle against the local yakuza and their formidable samurai-for-hire (Ichi the Killer's Tadonabu Asano). There are showdowns aplenty and, when they do come, they're nothing if not spectacular. Digitally-enhanced, cartoony and extremely violent (think: severed limbs and gallons of blood aplenty), the fights are likely to polarise audiences almost as much as the film's climactic, er, tapdance sequence.
In between, we get a revenge drama involving a cross-dressing geisha, a wannabe samurai who charges around wearing little but armour and what looks like a nappy, slapstick galore and numerous musical interludes. In a similar vein to Lars von Trier's Dancer in the Dark, Kitano draws his soundtrack from ambient noises - as Zatoichi wanders, sightless, through the fields, the sounds of workers' hoes builds up into a natural rhythm. It's a cute effect, and one that's deftly employed here, compounding the sense that Zatoichi - though blind - is catching something that everyone around him misses.
What impresses most is how Kitano manages to draw such unlikely elements together and, moreover, make them work so well. I can think of few directors capable of flitting from slapstick to bloodbath, or domestic tragedy to musical setpiece, as convincingly or effortlessly. Even the aforementioned tapdance number, and a lengthy flashback/musical piece midway through, make a curious kind of sense on a second viewing.
Being a Japanese-language film, this one will inevitably get only a limited audience. Those who do make the effort, however, are in for a treat. It wouldn't be overstating the case to say that you've never seen anything quite like this before."
Takeshi Kitano Ups The Ante Yet Again
Ping Lim | Christchurch | 08/12/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)

""Zatoichi" the old series is considered as movies for the blokes. The storyline is rather straight-forward: a Robin Hood of small villages during the Edo period, dispensing his kind of street justice against the yakuzas with vengeance instead of robbing the rich to give to the poor. There's never any subplots such as love interest, or trying to elaborate further what made him the person that he is or what made him blind at the first place. He's simply an enigmatic blind masseur who trekked from village to village and who's got a rather lethal skill that would come in handy when he needs it. When Takeshi Kitano took over the helm for this project, I am curious what kind of spin would he put to the original "Zatoichi". As we all know too well, sometimes, the changes to the original are so dramatic that towards the end, we can only say that the new series is "inspired" or "loosely based" upon the original. I'm truly gratified and satisfied that the new version of "Zatoichi" hasn't lost its original humour. Takeshi plays a rather good "Zatoichi" and his natural constant twitch to his face made him look rather menacing and intimidating. The storyline is simple enough: he befriends two geisha girls whose family is obliterated by a yakuza gang when they were young. As a result, being victim of circumstances, they resort to rob the unsuspecting men & looking for their killers to seek revenge. Zatoichi makes this his mission and responsibility to hunt those people down. Along the way, yakuzas of two factions are fighting one another off. Zatoichi also befriends a gambler who's constantly out of luck and he's obviously the comic relief for this movie. Then, there's a ronin (masterless samurai) who plays the tragic victim. He works for the yakuza for the money to look after his ill-stricken wife. In the end, he would have a final showdown with Zatoichi. The conclusion is predictable anyhow. Then, there's also the final confrontation between Zatoichi and the ultimate yakuza mastermind whose identity remains a secret until the very end. All the blood, gory, B-grade violent sequences, revelation of the true villain are all utilised in Kill Bill franchise. For those that want to know where and how Quentin gets his inspiration, this is a good opportunity. The final scene is where all actors and actresses come altogether to do a tap dancing sequence mimicking the village celebration of ridding of the bad elements by Zatoichi! You can say that it is the Tokyo's version of "Stomp". Black humour comes aplenty. For those that are familiar with Takeshi Kitano's career, all the actors here (good and bad guys alike) are and have been working alongside with him since his early days, akin to Saturday Night Live crew in the States. This is not just a well-made movie but a well-gelled movie. Truly fun to watch. I guess what made this movie appealing to both the old and young generations would be Takeshi's talent in spotting what they can emphatise with themselves in this movie. Highly recommended."
Blu-ray: A film that I love but why is there no lossless Jap
Dennis A. Amith (kndy) | California | 09/15/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)

"A modernized samurai film and who best to create such a film that would appeal on a worldwide level, what better than Takeshi Kitano aka Takeshi Beat.

"The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi" is written and directed by Takeshi Kitano and is based on the novels by Kan Shimosawa. The film would go on to win many awards worldwide and receive positive reviews amongst the critics but would achieve success because of its modern-take on the samurai genre. Needless to say, Kitano fans have been waiting for another brilliant film from the popular actor/director and the film definitely received worldwide respect.

In Japan, Takeshi Kitano is one of those talents that can be seen on television via a variety show, a serious talk show and radio show and mostly a comedic talent that is known for making people laugh or bringing out subjects that people in Japan, often don't want talk about. But a a filmmaker, Kitano is world renown. From his role in "Taboo", "Hana-bi", "Battle Royale", "Brother" and "Dolls".

Known for also being tough in his yakuza-genre based films, he also shown his resilience after bouncing back from a nearly fatal motorcycle accident that paralyzed one side of his boy.

Although a celebrated filmmaker, Kitano is known to do things his way and his style and in 2003, he intended to do just that for a samurai film based on Shintaro Katsu's "Zatoichi" TV series. But again, in Kitano's style and not redoing things that people have already seen in the TV series. To give his own spin and also to not make things serious by utilizing CG-blood, Kitano would also have blonde hair and most interesting is that the film included a dance number at the end of the film.

"The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi" features Takeshi Kitano as Zatoichi, a samurai who is blind but wanders around the country using his senses to win at gambling and also his skills as a masseuse. But he's also, a samurai with tremendous skills and is a man who is known to protect the innocent and those who have been hurt or oppressed.

In this film, he enters a town which has suffered from the various Yakuza gangs and business owners are expected to pay them from monthly to weekly for "protection money". Unfortunately, a lot of these business owners are unable to afford to live with the earnings minus what they owe to the Yakuza and if they try to stand up to the Yakuza, they are either killed or beaten.

One of the women who has dealt with the Yakuza is Aunt Oome (Michiyo Ookusu) who has taken Zatoichi into her home temporarily.

Meanwhile, we learn of a talented ronin samurai named Hattori Genosuke (Tadanobu Asano) who has a wife that is sick and willing to take any job. Desperate in trying to make money to pay for medicine, he takes a job as an assassin for one of the Yakuza gangs (who are planning to eliminate the other two gangs and take sole control of the financial resources).

One night, Aunt Oome talks about the Yakuza's who try to take money from the farmers and also about her nephew Shinkichi who is a hardcore gambler. With Zatoichi being a big gambler himself, he wants to check out the various gambling spots in town. He manages to meet Shinkichi at the gambling area but also surprises him by his wins through using his heightened senses and the two end up becoming friends.

While the two continue to gamble, we are then introduced to two Geishas named Osei (Daigoro Tachibana) and Geisha Okinu (Yuko Daike) who appear to be geisha's that commit murder.

While becoming lucky at the gambling hall, both Zatoichi and Shinkichi go to celebrate their winnings and eventually look for some fun visiting various geisha but instead hook up with the two murdering Geisha's but Zatoichi quickly senses that these two are not who they think they are.

We learn that both geisha are actually brother and sister who want revenge after the Yakuza who killed their entire family. Due to circumstances, the four may end up needing to team up with each other, as each become targets of the Yakuza.

But for Zatoichi, he has heard enough of the oppression by this Yakuza group and the target becomes the Yakuza.

VIDEO & AUDIO:

"The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi" is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:85:1) and comes with mix results. Disney Blu-rays are typically known for their quality picture and audio quality but "Zatoichi" has been DNR'd (digital noise reduction) but not excessively.

Also, there are signs of edge enhancement as well and makes you wonder if the original film was in bad shape. Nevertheless, it would have been nice to have a more detailed image quality with its original grain but nevertheless, the picture quality is not vibrant as I have hoped. But for the most part, picture quality leans more to good than great.

As for audio quality, this is a heart-breaker as this is another film released by Disney that only the English dubbed track is featured in lossless DTS-HD quality (48 kHz/24-bit). Granted, the film's English dub is actually quite good and I found it interesting that even during the dub, the voice talent tend to pronounce some Japanese words with the R and L's and even adding the silent "u" after certain words. But compared to other Asian films that have been released via English dub, this one is one of the best (along with "HERO").

With the lossless track, some scenes utilize surround during the rain scenes but for the most part, the film is a front and center channel driven film. Dialogue and music is clear and the ending dance performance really features a wonderful musical soundtrack.

But for many of us who enjoy Asian films, we prefer to watch the film in its original language and unfortunately the Japanese is only featured in 5.1 Dolby Digital (Spanish 2.0 Dolby Digital is also included). It would have been nice to hear this film in its original language via lossless but at least it was offered.

SPECIAL FEATURES

"The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi" comes with the following two special features (in 480i, English 2.0 Dolby Digital, English SDH and Spanish subtitles):

* Behind-the-Scenes Special - (35:55) An informative behind-the-scenes featurette showing the viewers of the first press conference, shooting throughout the various weeks from start to finish and then the premiere of the films at the film festivals. Featuring interviews with director/writer/actor Takeshi Kitano and the cast members.
* Exclusive Interviews with Crew - Featuring individual interviews with Katsumi Yanagishima (Cinematographer), Norihiro Isoda (Production Designer), Kazuko Kurosawa (Costume Supervisor), Tatsumi Nikamoto (Master Swordsman).

JUDGMENT CALL:

"The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi" is one of those films that you can't help but enjoy. In fact, I have enjoyed this film so much that I don't know many times I've watched it. I really enjoyed the modernizing of the samurai film and respect Kitano not wanting to emulate the classic but to do something different for the modern crowd.

Where the classic samurai films will always be there, Kitano wanted to bring some energy into the film with adding humor after major battle scenes, making the blood after a person gets slashed via CG but how it sprays, his goal was to make it more artistic. But possibly the most surprising of the film is how it ends with a beautiful dance. Where many samurai films end with the lone samurai leaving and happy villagers celebrating, he wanted to showcase that celebration through a more modernized Japanese dance that would include tap dancing.

I know for some hardcore samurai film fans, they may have a hard time seeing "Zatoichi" so far from the original television series but knowing Kitano's films and his humor, this was definitely one of those films that has his style but also capturing the spirit of those classic samurai films.

As much as I have loved the film, I still have some problems with the Blu-ray release and its decision to feature it via DNR for the picture quality and to find out that the original Japanese language is not in lossless audio but for the most part, Disney is not the only one who has done this as other Asian (especially anime) films or television shows feature the original language without the lossless audio.

But by no means is this a bad Blu-ray release, the picture quality is not terrible and truthfully, with the videophiles as the exception, most viewers may feel the picture quality to be clean and satisfactory and as for the English dub, for those who hate reading subtitles can find solace in knowing there is a solid English dub included. I'm not so much into dubs but I have to admit that "The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi" does have a solid English dub.

Overall, "The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi" is not going to be anywhere near reference quality nor will it be up there for great Blu-ray releases but for fans of the "Zatoichi", it's still a wonderful film that is worth checking out!"