Takeshi Kitano as Zatoichi/Ichi
Tadanobu Asano as Hattori Genosuke
Michiyo Ookusu as Aunt O-Ume
Gadarukanaru Taka as Shinkichi
Daigorô Tachibana as Geisha O-Sei
Yuuko Daike as Geisha O-Kinu
Yui Natsukawa as O-Shino, Hattori’s Wife
Ittoku Kishibe as Ginzo
Saburo Ishikura as Boss Ogi
Akira Emoto as Pops, Tavern Owner
Ben Hiura as Tavern Pops
Kohji Miura as Lord Sakai
Takeshi Kitano as Aniki Murakawa
Aya Kokumai as Miyuki
Tetsu Watanabe as Uechi
Masanobu Katsumura as Ryoji
Susumu Terajima as Ken
Ren Osugi as Katagiri
Tonbo Zushi as Kitajima
Kenichi Yajima as Takahashi
Eiji Minakata as The Hit Man
Behind the Scenes Special
Video Interview with the crew (cinematographer, production designer, costume designer, master swordsman)
Beat Takeshi Interview
Prologue and Epilogue by Quentin Tarantino
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound (Zatoichi only)
Original Language Track (Japanese)
Optional English Language Track
Spanish and French Subtitles
Running Time: Zatoichi – 116 Minutes, Sonatine 94 Minutes
This DVD set contains two separate films by Takeshi Kitano. Sonatine was released in 1993. Zatoichi was released in 2003. The following are the descriptions from the DVD covers:
“ZATOICHI: THE BLIND SWORDSMAN: In an empire ruled by fear, the people’s only hope is the ultimate weapon: Zatoichi (Kitano) — a blind, nomadic samurai whose sword has made him a hero and whose courage has made him a legend! Determined to help the desperate residents of a village, Zatoichi seeks justice through revenge!
SONATINE: A seasoned mobster travels to Okinawa on a “peace-keeping” mission, even though he suspects that his boss is secretly trying to eliminate him! Determined to not go down without a fight, he and his gang know exactly what they have to do!”
Zatoichi is rated R for strong stylized bloody violence. Sonatine is rated R for bloody shootings, language, and some sexuality.
I had a strange revelation after watching Sonatine and Zatoichi. The whole time I thought the star, Takeshi Kitano (aka Beat Takeshi), looked very familiar, but I couldn’t figure out where I knew him from. At the conclusion of Sonatine, Quentin Tarantino remarks that he’s primarily known for being a comedic actor. It’s then I realized where I knew him from. He’s Vic Romano from “Most Extreme Elimination Challenge” on Spike TV. I was stunned and amused by the revelation. It’s like figuring out that dramatic actor Robin Williams was Mork from Ork. In any case, it’s a testament to the guy’s acting ability. He goes from being a clown on a Japanese game show to being either a blind samurai or a yakuza gangster with ease. To top it all off he wrote and directed both films. That’s an amazing accomplishment no matter how you look at it.
Of the two films included on this DVD “double feature”, I liked “The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi” the best. The film is of the samurai genre. Zatoichi is a blind former samurai who travels the country helping people. In this film he gets in some very impressive swordfights. They are also notable because they feature CGI blood spurts. When Zatoichi slashes someone, it sprays out in graphic displays. I don’t recall seeing CGI used in swordfights like this before. The fights are also notable because the battles don’t last more than one or two moves. Usually someone is slashed in short order and it’s over with. But besides the fights, there is some impressive scenery, beautiful period costumes, and very detailed sets. It’s a great looking film. The story is also good, too. It builds up to a confrontation between Zaotichi and a ronin Samurai acting as a bodyguard for the main villain of the movie. While their final confrontation is a bit anticlimactic, the buildup to it is good. However, at the very end of the movie it takes a very bizarre twist. The surviving characters celebrate by breaking into a tap dance routine. Yup. Up until that point it was very much a period piece, but then it turns into Japanese Riverdance. It was odd, but I guess Japanese audiences liked it.
The second film is Sonatine. This one is quite different from Zatoichi. It falls into the gangster / yakuza genre. Takeshi Kitano again impresses with a dramatic performance. He also handles the action well. This film is notable for its particularly vicious gunfights that pop up out of nowhere. They are spontaneous and stunning because of their intensity. However, when the Takeshi and his gang hide out at a beach house from the other yakuza, it takes a particularly boring turn. You see over an hour of these gangsters going through male bonding. They shoot cans off of each others heads, dig in the sand, sumo wrestle, and more. This gets a bit tedious until the action starts again.
If you like Asian films, action films, samurai movies, or gangster movies, then you’ll definitely want to check out this DVD. And if you like MXC, you’ll want to check out Vic Romano in full bloody action.
There are a few extras included on this DVD:
Behind the Scenes Special This is your standard “making of” video. It follows the production from the initial press conference all the way up to its premiere. You see them rehearse the swordfights, practice the tap dancing number, filming on location, and more. It’s a very in-depth look at the making of the movie.
Video Interview with the crew (cinematographer, production designer, costume designer, master swordsman) These short interviews feature a number of the key crew from the film. My favorite was with the master swordsman. He talked about the style of sword fighting used in the film, how he worked with Takeshi, and more.
Beat Takeshi Interview For a man that does everything, Takeshi seems awfully camera shy. Despite this, he talks at length about filming his movies, Quentin Tarantino, and more. Fans of his will enjoy this. You definitely gain greater appreciation for his work after seeing this.
Prologue and Epilogue by Quentin Tarantino Tarantino delivers a sometimes rambling intro and “outro” to the film. He talks about how great Takeshi is, how Sonatine revolutionized yakuza films, what Japanese moviegoing culture is like, and more. It’s cool to see that he’s such a big fan, but it definitely seems like he does this talk on the fly.
The Bottom Line:
If you like Asian action movies, you’ll probably enjoy Zatoichi and Sonatine. They are from two very different genres, but they have a lot to offer in the way of action, exotic setting, and drama.