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Rental Unit: "The Blind Swordsman: Zat“ichi"

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Kitano's earlier films have been either fast and furious gangland movies (such as "Sonatine," which is included on this DVD) or ponderous art-house pictures such as "Dolls." Kitano reinvents Zat“ichi with a unique image, complete with black robes, platinum blond hair and a silent stillness that makes him a more menacing proposition than the character's original incarnation.

In the plot, Kitano checks off the generic necessities. Zat“ichi is the lone wanderer who enters a corrupt 19th-century Japanese village. He is drawn to help two geishas who are seeking vengeance for the murder of their parents at the hands of the ruthless gang leader. Much sword fighting ensues, but Kitano has mixed the pleasures of a predictable plot with wry humor and some unexpected flourishes of originality. While the lightning-fast sword fights leave the screen dripping in not-always-convincing computer-generated blood, it's Kitano's pacing that will either delight or frustrate.

There are moments when the samurai story stands still to make way for music. Fieldworkers' hoes break the ground rhythmically, and the drip drip of rain creates an atmospheric score. This all culminates in the final scene, when the entire cast joins together for a clog-laden tap-dancing extravaganza. I'm not sure what Shintaro Katsu would have made of this bizarre finale, but you have to applaud Kitano's audacity. — Daryl Grove

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