You as a revered recommendation, and when I sit down with you (having no experience with your long and fabled history) I find my expectations quite neutral. As I meet and follow the blind Zatôichi along his meandering way, I smirk at the instant and likeable nature of the man. Being blind since the age of 2 he has obviously developed his other senses to a very high degree that allows him passage through the world with little hindrance.
What is very apparent as well is his keen mind, humble nature, and preternatural sense of his surroundings. He bumbles along quite innocently at a glance but his mastery is never far from hand. As he meanders the countryside he meets old and new friends and is always a companionable and humble man that proofers no offense but to those that look for it – imagined or otherwise. His grace knows no bounds and his gratitude is always immense. I realize he is the sort of man I would feel blessed to call friend and it has nothing to do with his abilities.
This is a powerful testament to his nature as a character and to the filmmaker’s skill in painting that picture. As Zatôichi comes to settle for a time with a young woman and her brood of children, it seems he is content to pause his wandering. But unfortunately, the town she lives in has feuding Yakuza issues of its own and his pleasant doddering is finally ended as word gets out as to who he is and of what he is capable.
Some of the plot and Zatôichi’s extended personal reflection while being derided by others – seemingly just stretching out the exposition – seems to me to serve a purpose of underlining his loner ways. It also serves as a reminder of how his mastery of the blade also helps to keep his life a transitory and singular existence. I find this story trait quite appealing and to me it lends a melancholy flavor to much of the tone in this film. It is not out of place.
But, you ask, since this is a martial arts film, what about the battle and fighting? This, too, is unconventional in some ways. It is one part newer influence and two parts old school. Personally, I am struck at the brevity of many early clashes. When they erupt, Zatôichi’s blindingly fast skills almost choreograph like a real life sword fight that is as brief and as deadly as possible in the shortest amount of time. It’s striking in this world of too many Matrix action dissections and time-compressions on screen! I find it rings true and really sells him as a master.
As he mows his foes down like a combine through wheat, just in time for me to see the new boss march into town as he leaves, the cycle of power is reaffirmed and Zatôichi the legend once again becomes just Zatôichi the man. Soon on the road we see the ultimate statement of his place in the world when a Samurai of prior acquaintance that could have so easily been his friend, offers him the edge of his blade and in a blindingly fast clash, pays for it with his life. All Zatôichi can do is remind the Samurai as he dies that it was he who drew first and in the moment remind me of the metaphor of his life, that it clearly doesn’t have to be that way!
I think this final statement secures your legend with me as it reaffirms we all act out of choice no matter what that choice is. A blind man can be a wise man too.
(Bowing with right palm in left fist,) fair thee well Zatôichi,