Written by: Michael Den Boer on November 13th, 2004
Theatrical Release Date’s: (Sonatine) Japan, 1993 / (Zatôichi) Japan, 2003
Director: Takeshi Kitano
Writer: Takeshi Kitano
Cast: Takeshi Kitano, Tetsu Watanabe, Tadanobu Asano, Daigorô Tachibana, Yuuko Daike
DVD Released: November 9th, 2004
Approximate Running Time: (Sonatine) 94 minutes / (Zatôichi) 116 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1 Japanese, Dolby Digital 5.1 English (Zatôichi), Dolby Digital Surround Japanese, Dolby Digital Surround French (Sonatine)
DVD Release: Miramax
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $29.99
Takeshi Kitano had a huge shadow that lurked over his shoulder in his preparation for the role of Zatoichi the Blind Swordsman. Shintarô Katsu had originated the role of Zatoichi nearly forty years earlier starring in twenty six films and upwards of one hundred TV episodes as the Blind Swordsman Zatoichi.
The Blind Swordsman Zatoichi:
Zatoichi (Takeshi Kitano) is a blind swordsman who lives off the land. He sometimes works a masseur to help pay for his gambling habit. Zatoichi arrives in a remote village that is at the mercy of two rival gangs. Along the way he meets two geishas who use their beauty to trap and kill those who murdered of their parents. Ginzo hires Hattori (Tadanobu Asano) a samurai for hire to take care of his rival gang. Zatoichi soon crosses Ginzo which leads to a bloody showdown between Zatoichi and Hattori.
Takeshi Kitano breathes new life into the Zatoichi saga. The eyes are the gateway to ones soul and since Zatoichi is blind his character is defined through his facial expressions and movements. Kitano for the most part is subdued through out the film and as the film progresses he captures the essence of the character which helps the viewer connect with his interpolation of Zatoichi. Kitano took on many hats for this film and his directing if filled with beautifully composed shots. He also wrote the screenplay and worked as the films editor. It is in these last two categories in which the films shortcomings are painfully obvious. The film at times feels padded as to many subplots and characters are introduced into the mix. The ending although uplifting is unnecessary as the plot has already resolved itself by this point and Zatoichi has already moved on himself. The film strongest attribute is its action scenes which are expertly designed and edited. My favorite moment has to be when a rival clan surround Zatoichi in the pouring rain is by far and away one the most dazzling action scenes that I have seen in a long time. Even though this incarnation of Zatoichi is far from perfect the end product far out weighs any of its flaws.
Aniki Murakawa (Takeshi Kitano) is reluctantly forced to his clan to Okinawa to help settle a dispute between rival clans. Soon after his arrival his suspicions are confirmed when attempts and his life are unsuccessful. Murakawa and what’s left of his clan retreat to a beach house in the middle of nowhere. When his boss back in Tokyo banishes him he is forced out of hiding and in one final moment of rage Murakawa settles all accounts.
Early on as the opening frames of Sonatine appear before your eyes you know that you are about to watch something special. Sonatine is unlike any other Yakuza film you will ever see and Takeshi Kitano with this does what Kinji Fukasaku did in the 1970’s for the Yakuza film. Instead of focusing primarily on violence like most Yakuza films Kitano infuses the loss of childhood innocence into the stories main backdrop. The film opens with a flurry of violence that is associated with the genre before settling in the second act into something completely different. Once at the beach house Murakawa starts to slowly disintegrate before his clans eyes. The pressures of being a boss have taken their toll and he lets himself go as he submerges himself in a child like day dream. By the time of the third act a series of events bring him back to his senses. Takeshi Kitano keeps the direction tight through out. The dramatic changes in pace make this film feel like it is two separate films. Kitano as Aniki Murakawa steals the show with his tragic performance. My favorite moment in the film is when Murakawa and two of his underlings are playing Russian roulette on the beach. The demented look on Kitano’s face truly sums of his character and the movie.
The Blind Swordsman Zatoichi is presented in an anamorphic widescreen that preserves the films original aspect ratio. The color palette is vivid as it captures the blood red carnage and the green landscapes. There is no sign of compression or artifacts the black levels are exceptional. Two audio options are included for this DVD release the films original Japanese language track and an English dubbed language track. Both of these audio tracks are presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The fronts and surrounds are put to good use as the action is clear and easy to follow. English subtitles have been included that are easy to read and follow.
Sonatine is presented in an anamorphic widescreen that preserves the films original aspect ratio. The colors are nicely saturated and grain is kept to a minimum. The source used is free of artifacts and displayed solid black levels. Two audio options are included for this DVD release the films original Japanese language track and a French dubbed language track. Both of these audio tracks are presented in Dolby Digital surround. For this review I only listened to the original Japanese language track. The dialog is clear through out with no sign of hiss or distortion. English subtitles have been included that are easy to read and follow.
Besides offering two movies for the price of one for this DVD double feature Miramax has included some extras for Zatoichi like a behind the scenes special and interviews with cast and crew. Extras for Sonatine included an interview with Beat Takeshi, prolog and epilogue segments with Quentin Tarantino. Miramax after screwing up some many of their foreign releases gives Zatoichi and Sonatine the first class treatment for their North American DVD debuts. Miramax’s The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi and Sonatine DVD is a great starting point for anyone who hasn’t experienced Takeshi Kitano’s films highly recommended.