Review: Ichi (2008)

Directed by:
Cast: , , ,

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Zatoichi is a legendary blind masseur and sword master, a fictional character who has appeared in numerous Japanese movies and television shows. The original films starred Shintaro Katsu, and many of them have now become classics. In 2003, Takeshi Kitano gave his own interpretation of the character in Zatoichi, a hugely entertaining movie. And now, the Zatoichi legend lives on with Ichi, a ‘re-imagining’ of the Zatoichi tale that features a young swordswoman.

In ancient times, troupes of itinerant blind goze singers roamed northern Japan. One of them was Ichi, a young girl who was very skilled with using her sword. She arrived at the town of Bito, in search of a swordsman who taught her how to fight when she was younger. Meanwhile, Bito’s richest family, the Shirakawa family, planned to hold a festival to entertain the Shogun’s Magistrate, hoping that he would help them smash the Banki-to gang of bandits. Ichi soon found out that among those invited to perform was a blind ‘draw-and-slash’ swordsman…

Red Cliff, plays the leader of the Banki-to gang and is convincing as the menacing villain. The other major character is that of Toraji Shirakawa, played by Yousuke Kubozuka, another popular actor. In my opinion, Kubozuka’s acting here is relatively plain, and does not quite match his shining performances in Go and Ping Pong.

The film looks gorgeous and is absolutely pleasing to the viewers’ eyes. A combination of fantastic art direction and superb cinematography makes this a very good-looking movie. The sets are designed to show wonderful colour contrasts, and the stunning natural sceneries are wonderfully captured on film. As a bonus, there is a very pretty young actress playing the main character.

For an action film, Ichi has a surprisingly strong script. I am particularly impressed by how as the movie unfolds, the audience get to slowly learn more about the characters and understand their actions and feelings. The story is interesting and moving, but told in a somewhat restrained manner. I would have liked to see more emotions flowing through the characters’ faces, and for them to (be allowed to) express their feelings more, whether it is through words or body language.

Ichi is director Fumihiko Sori’s third feature film, with the first two being the cult hit sports comedy Ping Pong (2002) and big-budget sci-fi anime Vexille (2007). Judging by the quality of all of these three films, it is clear that this talented filmmaker is capable of handling a wide variety of genres. I am certainly looking forward to seeing his next film, and am very interested in finding out which genre he is planning to tackle next.

7 back-hand single slashes out of 10.
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