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The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi (2004)

The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi | ASANO AND KITANO
ASANO AND KITANO

Details Limited Release: Jul 23, 2004; Rated: R; Length: 115 Minutes; Genre: Action/Adventure; With: Tadanobu Asano and Takeshi Kitano; Distributor: Miramax

After doing blockbuster business in Japan and snagging awards at both the Toronto and Venice film festivals, the comedy-slasher flick from Japan's leading comic-actor-director Takeshi Kitano gets a chance to spread its eccentric charm in the U.S.

Zatoichi (played by Kitano) is a sightless ''killing machine'' who stumbles upon a remote Japanese mountain town where he becomes entangled in gang-war crossfire that eventually pits him against a deadly ronin (Tadanobu Asano). ''Zatoichi is such a preposterous character,'' admits the star-director. ''[He's] an affable, blind masseur-cum-masterful swordsman, and, by the way,'' he cracks, ''he's also a gambling genius. Impossible!''

Far from being a stodgy period epic, the movie also touches on issues of gambling addiction, transvestitism, and child prostitution. So how did the director think he could tie all of these not-so-funny subplots together after a climactic bloodbath? ''It struck me, 'Why not let them tap-dance?!''' Somewhere Tom Cruise is kicking himself for not thinking of that one first.

THE GOOD NEWS Tarantino's bloody-campy ''Kill Bill'' movies could help ''Zatoichi'' find a fan base seeking authentic Asian fare.

THE BAD NEWS A subtitled actioner with no name star could struggle to convert yen to dollars at the box office.

Originally posted Apr 21, 2004 Published in issue #762-763 Apr 30, 2004 Order article reprints