Friday, 16 March 2012

Zatoichi vs Ichi: FIGHT

In 2003 Zatoichi was the first major cinema release of the long-running blind swordsman character since 1989. Then in 2010, sort of sequel called Ichi was released, starring Ayase Haruka as the daughter of Zatoichi on a search for her father.

Although not a remake of the same story, it's worth comparing the two. The 2003 film was directed by and starred Kitano Takeshi. His version is as unique as you'd expect, giving Zatoichi blonde hair and a blood red cane where he keeps his sword. The 2010 film, directed by Sori Fukihiko (who also directed Ping Pong) is, in many ways, a more typical story of love, death and revenge.

Both films contain the scene set in a gambling den where Zatoichi/Ichi is able to tell which way up the dice have fallen simply by listening. In the 2003 film this is part of the story and begins a series of events leading to the climax, whereas in the 2010 version it doesn't seem to go anywhere. I suspect they put it in as an homage to the earlier films.

In terms of casting, both films are blessed with a very visual lead role. Takeshi is great as the blind swordsman and your eyes are naturally drawn to him when he's on screen. Haruka's striking beauty works surprisingly well as the blank face of a killer. Both films have strong supporting casts, too. Notably the 2010 version has Osawa Takao and Ayase Haruka together again, and the rapport they built up while making Jin means the chemistry between the two is very relaxed. Also worth mentioning is Kubozuka Yosuke (who worked with the director in Ping Pong) who impresses in his role.

The main difference between the two are in the attitude of the film. Ichi is quite a traditional movie, whereas Zatoichi is quite playfully shot. Takeshi often sets up the actions of the extras (carpenters or farmers) to syncronise with the music of the soundtrack. The background characters are village idiots or grumpy regulars at a sake bar. Plus, of course, the whole thing ends with a dance routine. Ichi looks nice and is well-made, but never really surprises.

Plus, Zatoichi tells a better story. There are few wasteful scenes and the finale is not a mass brawl between hordes of warriors, but a quick, tense stand-off between two people. This is far more low-key than Ichi's final battle against the overacted gang leader and his followers. So, although Ichi is a good movie that's worth a look, Zatoichi takes this battle quite easily. In fact, it wins with its eyes shut.

Ha ha. Do you see what I did there? Ha ha.

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