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Darkness is my advantage
(the blind swordsman) Zatoichi
I'll just watch for now
(the blind swordsman) Zatoichi
I saw one of the old Zatoichi movies last week. It was a great movie. Zatoichi is a blind man who travels around Edo period Japan. He makes a living by giving massages and gambling. Only samurai were allowed to wear swords and Zatoichi carries an innocent-looking pilgrim's stick. It is actually a shikomi zue - a cane sword. He always protects children and women and people who need help against injustice.
For a budoka the swordfight scenes are very interesting. Sometimes he waits full of intense concentration listening for a whisper of an attack. Then in an instant he spins and slashes - nearly always drawing and holding his blade in a reverse grip (an icepick grip with the blade facing out). Spinning through a group of attackers he looks something like some old movies of O Sensei. Gozo Shioda Sensei gives a similar impression of ceaselessly spinning in old videos when he is attacked by several people at once. So maybe there is a lesson there for us against multiple attackers. Always be in motion - turning and entering, entering and turning.
There are other interesting concepts in Zatoichi. Ninkyo is the concept of chivalry promoted by the forerunners of the yakuza gangs - with the idea of caring for the poor and the weak. Bushi no nasake is the idea of a samurai's compassion - especially looking after the weaker members of society. But in the Zatoichi movies the yakuza are often the exploiters and the samurai are mostly incidental or even allied with the evil side. So it is left to the anma - the blind masseur - to help when someone is in trouble.
Takeshi Kitano's hommage movie Zatoichi was released in 2003. I liked it but it wasn't in the same class as the original Zatoichi movies. In the original movies Zatoichi was played by Shintaro Katsu. He had great charisma as an actor. He also had his own production company and wrote and directed movies. He had some troubles with the law and the establishment in Japan because of drugs. There was also an unbelievable accident during the filming of the last Zatoichi movie. A stuntman was killed in a fight scene because one of the prop swords turned out to be a real katana. A few years later a similar freak accident killed Brandon Lee during the filming of The Crow when a blank cartridge apparently fired a real bullet.
There was a nice Hollywood version of Zatoichi called Blind Fury starring Rutger Hauer.
The Kitano and the Hollywood versions are watchable and enjoyable. But the Shintaro Katsu versions are unforgettable.
At the end of the Zatoichi movies this is the final song played over the credits. The song is a kind of lullaby in enka (Japanese modern popular ballad) style. The singer is Shintaro Katsu himself. He was an accomplished musician and singer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJhpESRxY_k