Pat Coston Movie Reviews

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Zatoichi - The Blind Swordsman

Thanks to NetFlix recommendations, I discovered the Zatoichi movie and TV series from Japan. It's one of the longest Japanese running series. It is set in the Edo period in Japan. Zatoichi is a blind wanderer who makes money as a masseur. He is also good at gambling. Being blind, he uses his other enhanced senses to help him listen to the dice and know if they are odd or even. His main talent is a master swordsman.

These scenes I've captured are from the third film which is also the first colored film.

Being blind, people think he is an easy kill. In fact, he acts crippled, old, slow and unaware until the moment he strikes. When he strikes, your dead. One swing or stab of his sword is all it takes. He hides his sword in common objects like a bed roll or a cane so his attackers think he is unarmed.

He often likes to get down on one knee or both knees. This low position somehow gives him an advantage. You can see in the pictures above how he also holds his swords upside down allowing him to attack using unconventional angles. His technique is very unpredictable. He will also use darkness to his advantage.

Sometimes he will take on a dozen men at the same time as in this picture. Notice how he is listening for the stroke of the sword. He is aware of where each man is. He can hear them breathing and stepping. Click the thumbnail to see the larger version. Knowing there is a man behind him, he will back toward the man to act as though he doesn't know. When the man goes to strike, he quickly spins around and deals a deadly blow before the man can finish his strike.

The story line is similar to the classic TV show Kung Fu where Caine walks the Earth visiting villages and righting wrongs. Zatoichi wanders Japan moving from village to village. Trouble always seems to find Zatoichi or he goes looking for trouble with the intention of helping the poor and helpless. He is a super hero. I would not doubt it if the TV series Kung Fu was based on Zatoichi.

There are 26 films and 112 TV episodes. I've seen roughly 5 of the films and I'm hooked.

I can tell you about the amazing fight scenes but you really need to see them for yourself. YouTube has tons of Zatoichi videos. Here are some of my favorites.

This scene is from the last Zatoichi film made in 2003. It features computer generated blood and amputations. His cane holds his sword and also doubles as a weapon. Made of metal, his cane can successfully block a sword stroke.

This scene is from that same 2003 movie. Notice how he walks like a crippled old man. His hidden attackers have no idea of his skill. In the darkness of night, he has the advantage.

This type of fight is rare since Zatoichi does not kill his attacker with a single blow. The fight lasts a long time and Zatoichi is knocked down and his sword is broken. All seems lost but Zatoichi turns the tables in the last instant.

There are many more videos on YouTube. Certainly Zatoichi is not for everyone but I find it appealing because people under estimate him. He is far more than he appears. He uses his blindness to help people. He kills the bad guys and makes the world a better place.

I have yet to learn how he was blinded or why he wanders instead of settling down but I'm sure I'll have a much better understanding once I finish watching all the movies and TV shows.


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