Stars: *** 1/2
Rating: R for extreme violence
Run Time: 1 hour, 56 minutes. In Japanese with English subtitles
Kitano is a god in his native
Swordsman is based on the beloved 19th century Japanese character (played by the late Shintaro Katsu) that rode the big screen and TV airwaves for over twenty-five years in stories of the legendary anti-hero Zatoichi.†
Zatoichi (Kitano) isnít your garden-variety killer. Just an affable and itinerant masseur who happens to be sightless.† This unceremonious masquerade disguises a deadly accuracy with the sword (discreetly sheathed in a walking stick) and a mythic propensity for violence.
Arriving in a gang-dominated village, Zatoichi befriends a pair of mysterious geishas (Yuuko Daike and Daigoro Tachibana) who are unyielding in their desire to avenge the murder of their parents. Another killer by trade, the much-feared and internally-tortured ronin Hattori (Tadanobu Asano) simultaneously takes up position as a bodyguard for the local gang lord.
Zatoichi and Hattoriís reckoning is inevitable, but itís Zatoichi himself who commands the attention.† His ability to utilize his acute sound to his advantage and overcome his handicap with blistering skill overshadows the unprepossessing plotline and lush costuming.
Kitanoís take on the infamous legend is a ferocious mix of history, slapstick, and savage violence, punctuated by tap-dancing peasants (say what?) and quirky narrative asides that lend playful (and often head-scratching) relief. To characterize Swordsman as an acquired taste is an understatement; this is a delirious pulp musical cum waste-laying siege that knows no parallel.
Swordsman is not for the squeamish or faint of heart.† Its bloodletting is exacting and profound, grabbing the project by the jugular and casting a sweeping crimson pall.