For those who have seen Zatoichi, this tale of a blind swordswoman will be pretty self-explanatory from the opening scene. For those who haven’t, this is the story of a blind young woman called Ichi who has been outcast from her group, and is on the road in search of a man. Who the man is and why she wants to find him is not revealed until much later in the film, so for the majority of the time we follow this woman as she wanders from town to town, unsure exactly of what she is doing or why.
Along the way she meets a rather hapless samurai named Toma, who – for reasons relating to a terrible incident in his childhood – is unable to draw a sword. The two cross paths when Toma attempts to battle a gang and finds himself in trouble, paving the way for Ichi to come along and save him. Eventually, thanks to a misunderstanding, Toma is hired to protect a small village from a violent gang known as the Banki-to, and it’s only a matter of time before everyone finds out how incompetent he is with a sword.
The first thing to say about this film is that it may be a re-think of Zatoichi, or a continuation of that story; it’s never really made clear. Things progress at a fairly even pace, however the fight scenes are very repetitive and unimaginative: Ichi shuffles forward, seemingly helpless, draws her sword and slashes at her attackers. The action rarely differs from this format, and it has the sometimes annoying habit of slipping into slow motion, giving a rather static feel to what should be fast-paced, adrenaline-pumping fight scenes. Both main characters have their back-stories, and both are resolved by the end of the film. It all feels pretty clichéd and usual for this type of film.
On the positive side, the cinematography here is beautiful. Snow swirls and flurries down over frosted blue landscapes, trees shine emerald green, and the indoor scenes are decked out in typical Japanese decadence. The flashback scenes are laced with a pearly mist and open out to vistas of dreamy violets bowing their heads in the wind, and of beautiful women struck down by tragedy. Asian cinema usually excels at such visual beauty and atmosphere, and Ichi is no different. A big part of what kept me watching to the end was the visual flair, which I found utterly absorbing.
Nothing truly bad can be said about this film; it is a competent effort with focus that does a solid job of telling its story. The problem is that the story it tells is not too original, and has been seen before dozens of times. If you’ve seen Zatoichi, there really is nothing new here. As for special features, all you get on this disc is the trailer.
Ichi will be released on August 24, 2009.