I finally managed to see Kitano ‘Beat’ Takeshi’s masterpiece, Zatoichi, tonight. After missing it at the cinema, nearly buying the DVD a while back and forgetting to tape it off the TV a few times, I managed to record it the other night off Channel Four.
Well worth the wait.
Zatoichi (Takeshi) is a blind swordsman and masseur, who roams feudal Japan helping the helpless. It’s a violent, witty and tragic tale of revenge, directed beautifully by its star.
The music is noticeable but not intrusive, adding to the tension of scenes rather than guiding them or demanding emotion. I don’t claim to be an expert on Japanese martial arts films but this surely ranks as one of the better ones.
The last time I watched anything similar was a few years ago at the Filmhouse in Edinburgh, when they held an Akira Kurosawa season. I’d read that 1958’s Hidden Fortress was a heavy influence on 1977’s Star Wars and had to see it for myself.
One last thought on martial arts films and TV… I don’t know what it’s like for anyone else in their 30s brought up on the weekly adventures of Monkey back in the early 80s, but I still hold that up as something of a benchmark for these sort of things.
Monkey had some superb scripts that had both comedy and a touch of (occasionally heavy-handed) morality. Granted, UK audiences only got a roughly translated version, but even these managed to tug at the heartstrings once in a while, usually just after Monkey, Pigsy, Sandy and Tripitaka had liberated another village from demons during a bonkers, high-octane, dodgy effects-laden fight scene.
The fact that it’s stuck in my memory for 25 years suggests it must have done something right.
Anyone for ‘Zatoichi meets Monkey’?
And here’s the fantastic end title music…