Subscribe to Takeshi Kitano alerts

Facts and Figures

Run time: 116 mins

In Theaters: Saturday 4th February 1989

Distributed by: Media Blasters

Production compaines: Office Kitano, Saito Entertainment, Tokyo FM Broadcasting Company, Bandai Visual Company (JAPAN)

Reviews 4 / 5

IMDB: 7.5 / 10

Cast & Crew


Starring: Takeshi Kitano as Zatôichi, Tadanobu Asano as Hattori, der Leibwächter, Michiyo Ookusu as Tante O-Ume, Gadarukanaru Taka as Shinkichi, Daigorō Tachibana as Geisha O-Sei, Yûko Daike as Geisha O-Kinu, Yui Natsukawa as Hattoris Frau, Ittoku Kishibe as Ginzo, Saburo Ishikura as Ogi, Akira Emoto as Kneipenbesitzer

Zatôichi Movie Review

Seated at a gambling table with his head tilted downward in silent, intense concentration, Zatôichi, a 19th-century blind Japanese nomad enjoying a game of dice, listens closely to the two white cubes clank against one another inside a wooden cup. Suddenly, the sound of the dice changes. The men, Zatôichi recognizes, are trying to cheat him. He looks up, his eyes closed but his face nonetheless stern, and without warning unsheathes his gleaming cane sword and begins to hack and slash his way through the gaming establishment's samurai warriors. When the melee is over, only a pile of bodies remains in Zatôichi's wake. If Zatôichi, Takeshi "Beat" Kitano's period piece featuring the classic Japanese superhero, teaches us anything, it's not to mess with the handicapped.

Zatôichi, the hero of 26 feature films and a long-running television series in his native Japan, was a wandering masseur, gambler, and warrior (played by Shintaro Katsu from 1962 to 1989) who fought for the rights of the downtrodden working-class man against villainous crime lords and land barons. In this reinterpretation of the Japanese icon, director Kitano plays Zatôichi with blond hair and a red cane (which houses his ferocious blade), and reimagines the friendly samurai as a dour, remote hero prone to isolate himself in meditative silences. While Kitano retains the character's impish chuckle and sympathy for the countryside's maligned outcasts, his Zatôichi substitutes Katsu's balletic gracefulness with a swift physicality. This new Zatôichi is a viper coiled to strike with tornado-like ferocity at any moment, and in his silent-but-deadly manner, the character more than slightly resembles the gun-toting yakuza madmen of Kitano's Sonatine and Brother.

Adhering to the series' formula, Zatôichi arrives in a new town to find that things aren't nearly as cheery and peaceful as they initially appear. The Ginzo gang is, both literally and monetarily, bleeding the local merchants dry, and has recently hired a new samurai named Hattori (Tadanobu Asano) to help wipe out the rival criminal competition. Zatôichi befriends an unlucky gambler named Shinkichi (Gadarukanaru Taka), and the duo eventually join forces with two deadly geisha seeking revenge against the Ginzo clan for their parents' murder. Ginzo (Ittoku Kishibe) - whose droopy face resembles CNBC's Wall Street guru (and former Wall Street Week host) Louis Rukeyser - is a bloodthirsty gangster, but Kitano's script (based on a short story by Kan Shimozawa) primarily paints in shades of gray. Whether it's the geishas' sad tale of prostitution and gender-bending identity suppression (which adds a homoerotic tinge to the penetrating swordplay), or Hattori's decision to work for Ginzo so he can purchase a cure for his dying wife, the motivating forces behind characters' behavior is, as in the best Zatôichi adventures, not nobility or vileness but, rather, necessity and circumstance.

Kitano shoots with a steady efficiency that favors slow, graceful dolly shots and, in the film's signature visual flourish, 360-degree rotating pans around characters. His unadorned direction provides logical visual coherence to the frenetic, bloodstained action sequences, which include a duel on the beach and a stunning rain-soaked skirmish that pays tribute to Kurosawa. The furious swordfights, replete with geysers of spurting blood and blades puncturing torsos courtesy of comic book-esque CGI, benefit from an anime-influenced hyper-realism. An aerial shot of Hattori dispatching an army of foolhardy samurais has a Gauntlet videogame aesthetic, while Zatôichi's moonlit massacre at the gambling house is exhilaratingly elegant. And when Zatôichi and Hattori cross blades, the din of the swords' hurricane-force clash is akin to the clanking of locomotive wheels grinding and springing to life.

Kitano choreographs scenes of farmers tilling the land or workers building a house to the beat of Keiichi Suzuki's score, which utilizes strings, organs, and synthesizers to create a fusion of modern and classic Japanese melodies. This aural and visual synchronicity mirrors the film's harmonious themes of inclusion, tolerance and rebirth. Yet Kitano's premiere triumph is his deft directorial blending of action and comedy. Whether it's the terrified looks of Zatôichi's enemies after he's displayed his daunting swordsmanship, or the blind samurai nonchalantly tossing newly cut logs over his shoulder into a perfectly arranged pile, humorous vignettes provide the blood-soaked battles with a wry levity. Things culminate in an energetic tap-dance routine that perfectly encapsulates the film's humane spirit, as well as displays the director's heretofore unexploited gift for song-and-dance set pieces. Action-adventure, comedy, and musical - any way you slice it, Takeshi Kitano's Zatôichi rocks.

The DVD includes a second disc with Takeshi's film Sonatine, with both features including interviews with various cast and crew, and an introduction from Quentin Tarantino attached to Sonatine.

Aka Zatoichi, The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi.

Zat's back!


Subscribe to Takeshi Kitano alerts


Zatôichi Rating

" Excellent "


More Takeshi Kitano

Entourage Trailer

After making a name for themselves in Hollywood, Vincent Chase and his entourage of friends from Queens have finally made a movie. The only problem...

HAERTS - Interview Video

Brooklyn band Haerts released their self-titled debut album this year, and here they talk about how they first got into music, their lifelong friendship and...

Mark Ronson - Daffodils ft. Kevin Parker [Audio] Video

Mark Ronson will finally unveil his fourth album 'Uptown Special' on January 26th 2015 through his new label deal with Sony Music. He has teamed...

Meghan Trainor - Lips Are Movin [Live] Video

Meghan Trainor performs her latest single 'Lips Are Movin' at one of her favourite places in the world: an aquarium. The song features, alongside smash...


Bastille - Things We Lost In The Fire [Live] Video

Live on the Honda Stage at Music Midtown in Atlanta, Bastille perform 'Things We Lost In The Fire', the final single from their debut album...

Bastille - Oblivion [Live] Video

Bastille perform their single 'Oblivion' live on the Honda Stage at Music Midtown in Atlanta. The track followed Platinum hit 'Of The Night' and featured...

HAERTS - Be The One [Live] Video

Haerts perform an intimate live rendition of their song 'Be The One', taken from their self-titled debut album released in October 2014 through Columbia Records....

ScHoolboy Q - Hell Of A Night Video

ScHoolboy Q released his first number one with third album 'Oxymoron', and he now unveils the video to its latest single 'Hell Of A Night'...