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December 27, 2004


Christmas night I made a nest in the den, curling up on the captain's bed with a comforter and my iBook. I loaded Zatoichi, given to me by one of my anime friends (John Jackson) for Christmas. I watched it beginning to end in the dark with headphones on. I'm gonna have to do that more often!

The movie itself is entertaining, with Takeshi Kitano giving a sometimes subtle but charismatic performance as the blind masseur Zatoichi. I'm giving away my age here when I compare this character, somewhat tongue in cheek, to Jim Bronson, in Then Came Bronson. The basic story line goes: exceptional man sees all the mysteries and tragedies of the world, stands tall after every disappointment, but one day tires of working within the system. He sheds his old life like a discarded skin and embarks on a pilgrimage. Where it leads and how it will end, he doesn't know. But in the meantime, he wanders from town to town, and being the exceptional man, cannot help but aid the downtrodden where he meets them. Bronson did it from the saddle of a Harley motorcyle, Zatoichi shuffling along on tattered sandals. Bronson with his wits and fists, Zatoichi with his wits and his cane/sword.

But no, I'm also reminded of Clint Eastwood in the Sergio Leone films. Particularly Fistful of Dollars, where the nameless stranger enters a town and plays two greedy families against each other to his own advantage. That's not the plot of Zatoichi, but captures the amoral, elemental nature of his character. I wonder if the creators of Zatoichi hadn't read Red Harvest, by Dashiell Hammett (published in 1929). In it, the nameless detective in the employ of the Continental Detective Agency brings a tower of corruption crashing down by guile and playing on peoples' greed. Neither of these stories has anything to do with Zatoichi's storyline, but I kept coming back to the central characters, essentially amoral, unjudging, yet always seeming to come down on the side of the weak.

There have been a couple dozen Zatoichi series movies. He's a popular character in Japan. Kitano's movie is an irreverent tribute to this original series. Now that I've seen it, I'll almost certainly have to check out some of the originals.

Posted by dpwakefield at December 27, 2004 04:57 PM