Bloody good
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Date: 22 March, 2004

Beat Takeshi, right, plays Zatoichi

'It squirts and spurts, and while not pleasant to witness, its effervescence is often cartoonish.'

Even though it's bloody, Catherine von Ruhland likes Japanese film Zatoichi

A flood of blood splatters across the movie screen this month. First, Zatoichi, followed by the release of Mel Gibson's controversial The Passion of the Christ.

Ironically, Takeshi Kitano's Samurai actioner is the more transcendent of the two films.

Director Kitano's acting alter ego Beat Takeshi is Zatoichi, a blind gambler and masseur and master swordsman, wandering the foothills of 19th century Japan.

So when he comes across a small town at the mercy of the Ginzo gang, he turns avenging angel to free the locals.

The bloodletting in Zatoichi is reminiscent of Kill Bill. It squirts and spurts, and while not pleasant to witness, its effervescence is often cartoonish.


It is as if Kitano and Quentin Tarentino are playing with the new technology and special effects available to them. And while there is a definite glibness about their battles of life and death, there are depths to their visions too.

It takes a long while to recognise the worth of this film beyond it being a gripping Western-style drama. Certainly the swordwork and choreography are splendid and artful, and the mystery of Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name character hangs about Zatoichi.

But the slaughter would seem relentless were it not for the film's truly cathartic, uplifting, transforming conclusion.

Those who have taken the film lightly will likely view the foot-tapping finale as a jolly good romp. For it appears like a post-production hoopla featuring the entire cast in a show-stopping stage-thumping celebration that lift's one's spirits way beyond the cinema roof.

But in the context of all that has gone before it presents an amazing grace! The townspeople are free: they live again. The old hotfoot like troopers.

Most moving of all, the abused child who became the damaged adult is given space to dance too. Like the final feast at the end of Cold Mountain what we have here is a cinematic vision of a glorious transcendence, of a world made wholly new.

Zatoichi (18), directed by Takeshi Kitano, starring Beat Takeshi