The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi

Maybe you know nothing about Takeshi Kitano. If so, you're missing out big-time. A legend in Japan as director, screenwriter and editor of brutal, brilliant crime films, notably Hana-Bi and Sonatine, he is also an actor who works under the name of Beat Takeshi, derived from his days as half of the comedy act the Two Beats. p>itano is known for throwing curves, and he throws a doozy in The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi, a film that Miramax is determined to make his breakthrough hit in America. No argument here. The movie is a blast of ferocious energy and offbeat laughs, with a constant splatter of computer-generated blood and a body pileup to rival both volumes of Kill Bill. Kitano throws everything at this nineteenth-century samurai tale, including a climactic tap-dance number. The real surprise is Beat taking on the role of Zatoichi — the blind masseur with a sword hidden in his walking stick is an iconic figure in Japanese film and TV, as played by Shintaro Katsu. But Beat makes the character his own with a blond Iggy Pop dye job and wicked mischief flickering under his hooded lids. The plot, in which Zatoichi helps a sister and her cross-dressing brother — both posing as geishas — avenge their family honor is merely a convoluted excuse to let Kitano do his thing. He's a riveting spectacle. So's the movie.

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