June 7, 2004 [Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman]

"Beat" Takeshi/Takeshi Kitano--he's split himself in two, just like his movies:

A. blank and doomed, resigned to a cosmic physics that ordains all trajectories

and

B. twinkling like stars, or impish eyes, waiting for the moment when joy--the "beat" of that physics--breaks in--not an interruption of doom but as bound to the fabric of his world as the sudden outbursts of terror and violence.

Sonatine captures that bifurcated world--and so does Kikujiro.  The former is a meditation, the latter a pratfall--but both know the other is there, not so much ghosts in each others' machines as double exposure photographs, an in-camera/in-life trick.

His homage to/dismantling of the Zatoichi character--twenty-plus movies strong, according to iMDb--delights in those two worlds, drenches them in blood and makes them kiss and make up, then dance in stomping joy at the marriage. Even the shocking surprise at the end--well, shocking to the Zatoichi faithful--manages not to offend. I was almost relieved at the revelation, as though poor old weary Zatoichi--wandering like David Carradine's Caine through a world eager to do its worst--had been given the final word, the wisdom of a life in the dark--where, as Zatoichi points out, one learns to see more clearly than if it had all been bright.

Takeshi, like so many other physical performers, has learned the lessons taught by Keaton and Chaplin--and he takes those two boys of the road all the way across the ocean to a place where they can move in anime suddenness toward justice and joy--with a blind pratfall at the end.

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