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Film / Zatoichi (2003)

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"Even with my eyes wide open, I still can't see a thing."

"Blind men can sense the world better."

The 2003 remake/Continuity Reboot of Zatoichi (known in the Anglosphere as "The Blind Swordsman Zatoichi" or Takeshi Kitano's Zatoichi), the legendary blind swordsman of Japanese folklore. Directed (and starred) by Takeshi Kitano, who uses his full trademark trippy style to tell an adventure of the blind Master Swordsman, with Gorn, humour and Japanese music galore.

In a general sense the movie follows three seperate plotlines set in the same location (a unnamed village): The titular character, Ichi, a blind masseur who wanders into a crime-ridden town and ends up attracting trouble for himself, the Ronin Hattori who has to provide for his sick wife and in the process becomes an enforcer for one of the town's gangs, and two Geisha Assassins who are more than meets the eye. The three plotlines weave into one another and eventually, clash. Violently.

It was very well received and professional critics have ranked it as one of the best of the entire 27-movie franchise.


  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: At one point Ichi cuts clean through stone with his sword cane.
  • Anti-Hero: Ichi is a trickster at heart and a vagrant, and it's implied he has something of a psychotic streak (see the rain scene). The Geishas are assassins and thieves, but they have a horrible backstory and a noble goal in mind.
  • Anti-Villain: Hattori's main goal is providing for his sick wife.
  • Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy: Hattori is pretty cocky with his sword-fighting skills. This contrasts with the humble Ichi.
  • Attractive Bent-Gender: One of the Geishas.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: There's two criminal gangs around town competing for power. Though by mid-way through the film it becomes clear that the major threat is Ginzo's gang.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Ichi's arrival when the geishas are about to be cut down.
  • Black Eyes of Evil: Ichi's a good guy, but when he opens his eyes the lighting of the shot makes it look like he has black esclera with yellow irises, which looks remarkably Satanic. We later see he has normal, if blind, eyes.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: It's perhaps the goriest Zatoichi film of all.
  • Bloody Hilarious: You get the feeling that the copious amount of bloodshed are meant to be funny in some occasions, such as when Ichi chops off a man's hand without any warning.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Even after Ichi's skill is made known of, the criminals still insist in antagonizing him.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Ichi here is quite absent-minded and weird, but he's a Master Swordsman and a nearly precognitive gambler.
  • Cane Fu: Ichi mixes his fencing abilities with just using the cane as a blunt weapon from time to time.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The Old Man turns out to be the main villain.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Ichi knows his blindness is a disadvantage, so he makes up for it by sucker punching the shit out of everyone. In fact it is via sucker punches that he kills the two main villains.
  • Concert Climax: Overlapping with Dance Party Ending, Ichi faces off the last remnants of the criminal gang as the village celebrates with a dance. It's one of the film's most memorable scenes.
  • Continuity Reboot: Of the Zatoichi franchise, though it had no sequels despite being fairly succeful.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Whenever Ichi unsheathes his sword, run. Whenever Hattori unsheathes his sword, walk very fast.
  • Dance Party Ending: The film ends with all (surviving) characters tap dancing to the tune of traditional Japanese music, though they actually start this in the last bits of the climax. Fittingly, Ichi's the only one who doesn't join them. It's most likely an excuse to show off the contemporary percussion group's skills one last time (in all fairness, they're awesome).
  • The Dog Was the Mastermind: Turns out the leader of the criminal gang was the elderly grandfather serving drinks in the tavern, and the barman was his right-hand-man.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: The Geishas. First off, one of them is a man, and both are orphans who had their families butchered to the last man, and finally, both are implied to have been child prostitutes to make a living.
  • Didn't See That Coming: Hattori failed to predict Ichi would use a different wielding stance in their final battle, and this throws him off to fatal effect.
  • Downer Ending: For one of the plot lines. Hattori is (rather anti-climatically) killed by Ichi and his sick wife commits suicide soon after.
  • The Dragon: Hattori is the mafia's enforcer and the closest thing to an equal Ichi has in the entire movie.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: The Geishas and the villagers go through Hell, but with Ichi's help, they come out more prosperous than ever.
  • End of an Age: It's subtle, but it's implied this is in the tail end of the Edo Period, as noted by the presence of a revolver.
  • Evil Gloating: The main villain's right-hand-man does a Badass Boast instead of engaging Ichi. Ichi takes the opportunity to cut him down.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Instead of killing him, Ichi decides to blind the main antagonist, so he lives the rest of his disgraced life as a blind man.
  • Flynning: Averted. One of the things Kitano had into consideration choreographing the fight scenes was that they were historically a fast affair where blade clashing was rather minimal. So even when the shots are gory, they are considerably faster than in other samurai films, and don't dwell in dramatics.
  • Foil: Hattori and Ichi are both cunning Master Swordsmen with very little money, but Ichi is older, blind and humble (living in the mercy of those who care for him) while Hattori is young, healthy, arrogant and operates as a mercenary.
  • Foreshadowing: The Old Man's reactions to a few moments imply that he's more than meets the eye.
  • The Gadfly: Ichi seems to enjoy doing things just to mess with people.
  • Genre-Busting: It blends Jidai-Geki with a criminal thriller, drama, Japanese comedy and some weird elements of musicals (the four or so scenes where random objects make up a musical rhythim).
  • Gambit Pile Up: It's two criminal factions trying to wipe out one another by various means, while simultaneously two Geisha Assassins eenact their own plots, while simultaneously Ichi throws a monkey wrench into everyone's plans.
  • The Gambler: Ichi has an affinity for gambling, and he's almost supernaturally skilled at it.
  • Gorn: The fight scenes in this movie are magnificently gory.
  • Groin Attack: During Ichi's Gorn-filled rampage on the gangsters, one of them tries to ambush him by crushing him with a house panel and himself. Ichi responds by cutting him from below with his sword, starting with his crotch.
  • Guile Hero: Ichi is actually the most perceptive character of the film, and spots several things no one else does.
  • Handicapped Badass: Ichi doesn't see a thing, and he can mow enemies down in single strokes faster than they can see him unsheathe.
  • Hyper-Awareness: Ichi can deduce what will be the dice results from the sound the dice make. He also discovers the two crime bosses by one's scent and the other for a minor action.
  • Iaijutsu Practitioner: Ichi has a lightning fast unsheathing technique, and this often gives him in the edge in battles. It's actually a plot point when Hattori and Ichi face off. Ichi changes his unsheathing technique at the last moment, which completely throws Hattori off his game and allows Ichi to dispatch him with one stroke.
  • Iconic Outfit: Ichi's get-up (dark cloak, sandals, light blue pants, red cane) has been associated strongly with the character since the movie's release.
  • I Am Not Left-Handed: Ichi's reveal that he's not blind is a subversion. Turns out he actually is blind. He said he wasn't just to throw his enemy off his game.
  • Invincible Hero: Ichi just slaughters through mooks wholesale. The only one who can give him a match is Hattori, and he manages to kill him swiftly due a display of trickery.
  • Jidaigeki: Late Edo Period variety, just before the Meiji restoration.
  • Master Swordsman: Ichi, of course. Hattori is also a highly skilled swordsman.
  • Mob War: The core conflict is a battle between two rival gangs.
  • Mugging the Monster: The film's opening scene has some vagrants trying to steal Ichi's cane (just to be dicks about it). Ichi makes short work of them. Similar situations all occur throughout the film, with characters trying to take advantage of this "poor blind man". It always ends badly for them.
  • Never Bring a Gun to a Knife Fight: Oogiya pulls out a revolver (the only gun shown in the movie) against Ichi. Doesn't help him at all.
  • Ninja: The Elite Mooks of the main villain. They still don't last long against Ichi.
  • Noble Top Enforcer: Somewhat. Hattori is just trying to provide for his sick wife and seems more plesant than most of his cohorts.
  • No Name Given: The two main villains are never named.
  • Obfuscating Disability: By the end of the film, Ichi states he's actually not blind. However this is subverted in that the film's final scene he reveals he actually is blind, and was just bluffing.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Ichi appears as a bumbling blind masseur, but it's clear that he's quite cunning. The Old Man in the Tavern also affects himself as a doddery old servant when in truth he's the mastermind pulling the strings of the town's crime.
  • One-Man Army: Ichi and Hattori cut through several dozens of thugs without breaking sweat.
  • Out-Gambitted: At first Ginzo's gang outmatches Ogi's gang, but then Ginzo's gang outmatches the Geishas only to be subsequently outmatched by Ichi, who then proceeds to beat the Old Man, the true main villain, to the punch.
  • Rank Scales with Asskicking: Subverted. The Fake Leader of Ginzo's gang shows off some impressive moves and declares himself to be very tough, but in the end, Ichi makes short work of him.
  • The Reveal: Three. First it's revealed the man behind the gang is the waiter of the tavern, much later Ichi reveals he's actually not blind at all and finally, we are shown that the true main villain was the harmless Old Man of the tavern. The movie ends subverting an earlier reveal by showing that Ichi actually is blind, and was just talking out of his ass.
  • Reverse Grip: The way Ichi holds his sword. It helps that he almost never parries any hits, instead dodging them and going for kill shots. This is even a plot point: when Hattori goes to fight him, Ichi knows Hattori has already seen his Reverse Grip wielding style, so he wields the blade normally and this catches Hattori off-guard.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: The Geishas had their families wiped out by the gangs and are thus tracking them down one by one.
  • Rōnin: Hattori is one. Some minor thugs are also implied to be Ronin.
  • Running Gag: The neighbor's son who runs around the house thinking he's a Samurai from time to time.
  • Single-Stroke Battle: Hattori vs Ichi.
  • Spotting the Thread: Ishi identifying the chiefs of the Mafia.
  • The Stoic: Ginzo doesn't express many emotions, though he becomes Not So Stoic when he's finally in Ichi's grasp.
  • Stupid Sexy Flanders: When it's discovered one of the geishas is a man, a lot of characters react like this.
  • Sword Cane: Ichi's choice of weapon.
  • Talking Is a Free Action: Adverted. Every time someone stops mid-battle to talk, Ichi shows just how terrible that idea was.
  • Three Lines, Some Waiting: The major plots are Ichi's and the Geishas' plots, with Hattori's intersected in-between.
  • Worthy Opponent: Ichi and Hattori learn to respect one another after their first clash.