Monday, November 08, 2010

Ichi and Zatoichi: The Blind Leading the Blind

Back in the day, when I was teaching Shotokan karate four nights a week, I was fascinated by all things Japanese. (Still am to some degree.) In particular I liked Samurai movies. My favorites are probably Hidden Fortress, Yojimbo, and Sanjuro, all directed by Akira Kurasawa, but I also have a fond spot for the movies about the blind sword master, Zatoichi played by Shintaro Katsu. I wasn’t the only one fond of master Ichi. The series spawned 26 films between 1962 and 1989, and well over a hundred episodes of a Zatoichi television series. There was also apparently a remake a couple of years ago, but I haven’t seen that one yet.
However my buddy Chris, who is also something of a Japanophile, told me that there was a new film out called simply Ichi, which dealt with the adventures of a young blind girl who used a sword in the same style as Zatoichi, and had an intriguing connection with the blind swordsman. I found a DVD of Ichi for cheap at Moviestop (handy place, that) and watched it Saturday.
Ichi is very much in the tradition of Zatoichi, as the blind girl, who calls herself Ichi, wanders the Japanese countryside during the Edo period, seeking a blind sword master who may or may not be her father. (This point is never confirmed and is left up to the viewer, which is good since the possible fate of the man she is seeking might put off some Zatoichi fans.)
It’s a fun little movie with a lot of good fight scenes and some nice character bits. The lead character has an interesting story arc and actually grows and changes as the film progresses. Takao Osawa portrays Ichi as a girl wronged by the world and seeking one final meeting with the only family she has ever known.
I wish I could say that her skill with a sword is up to Katsu’s but she lacks his impressive footwork. I enjoyed Ichi enough to go to Hulu and watch one of the original Zatoichi movies, Zatoichi’s Cane Sword, and marveled a Katsu’s performance and his skill with a sword. Possibly only a martial artist would be bothered by the footwork thing, but most Japanese martial arts stress stance and footwork as the foundations of all technique. Anyway, a small thing. All in all I really enjoyed Ichi. Of course now, I feel the sudden need to watch all the original Zatoichi films and maybe check out that TV show…

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