Feudal Japan in the 19th century is a time of cruel injustice, corrupt clan-leaders and violent oppression. To a remote mountain town comes Zatoichi (Kitano), an itinerant blind masseur with a taste for drink and gambling. He's also, however, a master swordsman, his acute hearing, cunning, quick intelligence and ultra-precise technique bringing him fame as a formidable foe. That's why innumerable opponents materialise when Zatoichi takes lodgings, throws in his lot with two lovely young geishas out to avenge their parents' murder, and - not without wry amusement - accepts help from the well meaning but clumsy Shinkichi (Taka). Turning to a character made hugely popular by the actor Shintaro Katsu in a series that began in 1962, Kitano revives the hero as a cool, near-invincible wrong-righter in the early Eastwood mould. The flashbacks, too, recall Leone. Here, with nods to Kurosawa, irony is replaced by slapstick, opera by Mamoulian-like rhythmic riffing and massed tap dancing. However improbably, Kitano pulls it off quite gloriously. Admittedly, this isn't one of his most idiosyncratic, innovative or, indeed, satisfying works, but it's without doubt fast, funny, fabulous to behold.
Cast and crew