I am not a critic. I am a reviewer.
(It’s a line I’ve nicked off an article Steven Grant (an American comic book writer) once wrote in one of his forums. It being applicable, I thought I’d use it for myself.)
So why the distinction and why now? Well, the thing with being a reviewer is that all I really do is fulfil a consumer role — I basically recommend whether something is worth seeing or not. I’m not really supposed to get down and really break down a movie and explain about all the really cool stuff I might just happen to pick up from a film. Besides, for fear of ruining a film for people, there’s only so much you can talk about it. Which is a real shame because something like Zatoichi, while being quite a decent samurai flick in itself, has some pretty cool themes and homages that just raises it above being just another film romanticising the Samurai era of Japan.
At its most basic, Zatoichi is a pretty, by the numbers, samurai and swords film with the usual one, incredibly skilled man, out to right wrongs and make the world a better place. The CGI blood and swords are an interesting idea but the technology doesn’t seem developed enough for it not to be noticeable. Whether this is intentional or not (after recent homages like Kill Bill, it’s hard to tell whether something is SUPPOSED to look fake or just inadvertantly like that) is something a critic (not me!) would discuss. There’s that level of moral ambiguity and complexity about our heroes and villians that we have come to expect and the vicious and frenetic fights that we keep coming back for. Still, nothing we haven’t really seen before.
What really made Zatoichi a film that raises it above its surface perceptions is just the entire rhythm of the film. It is, in fact, the central theme of the film and it’s interesting to watch the characters develop and relate to it — until you come to an end that you can see in common with ideas that run through a number of Kurosawa’s samurai films. Admittedly, at times, it is quite self indulgent but the overall film is such a complete experience, it’s easy to accept Kitano’s occasional excess.
Zatoichi is certainly a different interpretation of the Zatoichi mythology. More importantly it is a great film that stands on its own and another reason why it is worth hanging out for every film that Takeshi Kitano makes.