ICHI: Zatoichi Returns as the Blind Swordswoman
SPOILER WARNING: This article contains plot details for a new movie.
The famed ZATOICHI returns to the screen once again… this time as the female character ICHI. With eyes that cannot see, the audience will reach her soul, where emotions burst with relentless action!
Zatoichi— a wandering blind swordsman who protects the innocent and fights injustice— has been one of the the most popular samurai heroes in Japanese cinema and television. The character was featured in one of Japan’s longest-running movie series, with 26 films produced between 1962 and 1989 starring Shintaro Katsu as Zatoichi. Katsu also played the role in the 112 episode television series THE TALE OF ZATOICHI, which aired from 1974 to 1979. In 2003, “Beat” Takeshi Kitano directed and starred in the big budget update ZATOICHI (US title THE BLIND SWORDSMAN: ZATOICHI).
In ICHI, Shochiku Co., Ltd. brings the Zatoichi character brack to movie screens in a new female incarnation. Ichi is a lone goze (blind woman singer) who has become separated from her traveling entertainment troupe. Wondering how she will find her place in life, she carries only a shamisen (a traditional Japanese stringed instrument) and a walking stick with a hidden blade inside.
Because she is blind and also beautiful, she constantly encounters people who try to take advantage of her. People treat her coldly, and she is even dismissed by others who are blind or in the same lower rank as her. However, Ichi stands tall with dignity. It may be because this character— who fights with pain every time she swings her sword— is a woman, the audience will be able to feel her sorrow and the sting in the heart of her difficulty to live. It is also through her eyes that cannot see, that the audience will reach her soul and feel true relief when she finally connects with others by finding friendship and love.
Fumihiko Sori, acclaimed for his direction in PING PONG (2002) and the hit CG animated film VEXILLE (2007), created ICHI with a great cast and crew. Audiences will definitely appreciate and feel the emotions of each character, as well as the action which brings the film to a dramatic climax.
The swordplay is done in a classical form with great intensity. The fight choreography was directed by Hiroshi Kuze, the man behind the amazing sword battles in many Akira Kurosawa films.
The beautiful Ichi (Haruka Ayase) travels on her own to find the man who has brought her up and cared for her as a child. People try to take advantage of the fact that she is blind, but Ichi does not stand silently for such ill treatment and fights back with her unusual skill with swords, using the sword hidden inside her walking stick. The ‘draw-and-slash’ fighting style was taught to her by her former caregiver, a blind traveling masseur. Her backhand single slash has saved her on many occasions.
An incident brings her to the wandering samurai Toma (Takao Osawa). He tried to save Ichi from the Banki-to gang, but ends up showing his awful skills in swordplay and is saved by Ichi instead. Against her better judgment Ichi starts traveling with Toma.
The pair comes upon the town of Bito, where the Banki-to gang— led by the inhuman heartless Banki (Shidou Nakamura)— has taken charge. They also run into Toraji (Yosuke Kubozuka), who is the successor of the Shirakawa yakuza family trying to keep peace in the village. Toraji is very impressed to see the Banki-to gang fallen at Toma’s feet (although it is actually Ichi who cut them down) and offers Toma as job as the Shirakawa family bodyguard. Toma wants to help, but Ichi is uninterested and continues her search for the man who raised her. And in the process, she grows closer to Toma.
She confesses to him that she finds no meaning in life since she cannot see the difference between night and day or good from evil. She stands on the border between life and eath, and her only motivation is to meet the man that she believes to be her father before she dies. Toma tries to convince her that she must continue to struggle for life.
Ichi comes to the attention of Banki, who tells her they are the same— outsiders in life with a taste for blood. He also seems to know the man Ichi is looking for.
The wheel of fortune begins to turn as the deadly battle between the Banki-to and the Shirakawas begins. Ichi and Toma must now face Banki in one final confrontation…
About the Director
After working on the visual effects team at Digital Domain for TITANIC (1997), Sori made his directorial debut with the comedy PING PONG (2002). The film became one of the top grossing Japanese releases of the year, and was praised for its storytelling and stunning CGI effects. It also won numerous awards and was nominated in eight categories by the Japanese Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director (a rare case for an independent production).
Sori continues his work as a VFX producer/director, producing the first-ever full CGI animated movie in Japan, APPLESEED (2004). VEXILLE (2007), his second directorial feature, created a huge buzz in the international market and opened the 2007 Locarno International Film Market. ICHI is his third movie.
Running Time: 118 min
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Japanese Theatrical Release: October 25, 2008
Domestic Distribution: Warner Bros. Japan
International Sales: Shochiku Co., Ltd.
Cast and Staff
Ichi: Haruka Ayase (HERO, THE MAGIC HOUR, CYBORG SHE, HAPPY FLIGHT)
Toma Fujihira: Takao Osawa (MIDNIGHT EAGLE, CRYING OUT LOVE IN THE CENTER OF THE WORLD)
Banki: Shidou Nakamura (LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA, DEATH NOTE, PING PONG, YAMATO, RED CLIFF)
Toraji Shirakawa: Yosuke Kubozuka (GO, PING PONG)
Chobee: Akira Emoto (ZATOICHI, THE EEL, GODZILLA VS SPACE GODZILLA)
Izo: Riki Takeuchi (BATTLE ROYALE II: REQUIEM, BIG MAN JAPAN)
Kihachi: Go Riju (KITARO)
Mitsu: Mayumi Sada (CASSHERN, MASKED RIDER THE FIRST)
Kotaro: Ryosuke Shima
Obama: Eri Watanabe (SHALL WE DANCE?)
Director: Sori (PING PONG, APPLESEED, VEXILLE)
Development Producer: Toshiaki Nakazawa
Producers: Nobuhiro Azuma, Koji Yoshida, Yasushi Umemura
Screenplay: Taeko Asano (NANA)
Original Story: Kan Shimozawa (ZATOICHI)
Music: Lisa Gerrard (GLADIATOR), Michael Edwards
Cinematography: Keji Hashimoto
Lighting: Kenji Ishida
Sound: Jun Nakamura
Production Design: Takashi Sasaki (ICHI THE KILLER)
Set Decorator: Yoshiaki Kawai
Editing: Mototaka Kusakabe, Hisashi Sasaki
VFX Supervisor: Tadao Matsuno
Special Effects: Koji Kasamatsu
Swordplay Direction: Hiroshi Kuze (RAN)
Theme Song: “Will” by SunMin
Production: ICHI Film Partners
Festival and Awards: SITGES Festival Internacional de Cinema de Catalunya, Orient Express – Casa Àsia