In these days of remakes, it seems the movie corporations are dictating art and instead of reworking the remakes to be a film that derives plot points and ideas from the original and can stand on its own. The mantra seems to be to copy as much as possible while cynically updating the attitudes, messages and special effects. In the past decade ZATOICHI has had a resurgence of popularity in no small part due to the entirety of the series being made available on DVD worldwide. Unlike previous decades that saw inventive remakes, all this popularity has done is given rise to some of the clumsy and embarrassingly bad wannabes in the history of cinema.
The ‘80s has become a decade that is razzed by hipsters as a decade of “stoopid” cinema. While the decade was not without a wealth of misfires, I’ll gladly take Rutger Hauer’s turn as a modern-day Zatoichi in BLIND FURY (1989) than the wretchedly campy Takeshi Kitano remake ZATOICHI (2003).
In addition to a plodding script that rolls out character and plot clichés like a bad ‘70s TV show, Ichi gets in fights here and there, but instead of the stunningly elaborate choreography of Shintaro Katsu, we get POV shots of a CGI sword chopping up and down while the worst rendering of CGI blood in the history of modern cinema squirts around like someone just attacked a plastic ketchup bottle. How about goofy humor that pushes this firmly into the realm of parody? Got that too! Pointless cross-dressing? Check! Long, dry scenes of gambling that mimic the many found in the original series, but serve no purpose here? Gotcha covered! Fans and apologists claim that “it’s supposed to be campy!” and “the violence is supposed to look fake!”, to which I say that yes, same can be said of ISHTAR (1987), “intention” does not equal “good”. You can suppose in one hand and crap in the other and see which gets full first. “But wait!” I hear you desperately cry, “BLIND FURY has lots of comedy! One-liners zing around faster than ricocheting bullets! Ha! Got you there smartguy!” Why yes, yes it does. However the delineating edge of this blade is that with BLIND FURY at no time do the filmmakers disrespect the source material or are pretentious enough to think that they are bettering it. It takes its story and characters seriously and there are no cop outs when it comes to the action. At no point is it so self-indulgent that it decides that a standard climactic action sequence is too bourgeois, and what it really needs to be elevated to high-art is a lavish Broadway-style musical number. Yes Takashi’s ZATOICHI ends not so much with the flourish of a blade but the clatter of dancing feet. To the schmuck on a certain website who said of the Edo-Era Stomp, “if you have a soul, the ending musical number is pure joy!!” I say, if you have a soul, I weep for it.
Zatoichi as Holy Roller… NEXT!