Ichi is a remake of the now-famous Japanese story Zatoichi, about a blind swordsman who wanders about slaughtering people. The last version of this that I saw was by Beat Takeshi (whose Dolls I quite recommend), and it was okay until it went completely weird at the end. I also saw an excellent version with Rutger Hauer (Blind Fury – I don’t know if it’s actually the same story, but all blind swordsmen are the same aren’t they?)
This one recreates the story with a woman, who is a blind itinerant musician, who is a victim of various hard circumstances, and who is wandering the land seeking the man who taught her to kill. In the process she gets entangled in a small matter of two warring yakuza families, which doesn’t actually concern her, but she seems to have a soft spot for a chap. So she is obliged to do a lot of killing and looking sad and then, as in many such movies, everything goes pear-shaped.
The movie is good for the first half but degenerates a little later on when the bad guys get involved. This is because the bad guys seem to be pursuing some kind of weird kabuki style of acting which makes them look rather silly, particularly in their slightly outlandish outfits. Maybe there’s an impression that they’re meant to actually be devils (they’re tattooed with a devil symbol and speak very strangely) but this implication was wasted on me and it just looked like bad acting. The story gets a little fanciful at times but it’s nothing that can’t be handled.
Also, the single-slash sword-fighting style of the lead woman gets kind of boring after a while. All she does is step out of the way and cut. It’s graceful and impressive but after the 88th kill you want her to do something interesting. Oh, my poor jaded tastes!
The love interest, a wandering ronin, also gets a little silly near the end and seems generally useless. Also, is it only me or were his mummy issues just a little too blatant? He blinded his mother by accident and now he wants to redeem himself by saving a blind swordswoman – what’s that about? Sometimes people just really lead with the chin when they right these things, don’t they?
The lead character is good though, suitably tragic and well acted (I thought) as a little point of calm in an otherwise hectic and chaotic set of circumstances. Some of the things she says too are very very sad. I like sad heroes. Especially if they’re pretty and they can kill you. But her sad, calm and serious figure didn’t quite work against a semi-comedic backdrop of silly ronin and crazy bandits. It was as if the movie couldn’t decide whether to be a comedy or a drama, and didn’t find a way to combine the too.
In the end I mainly enjoyed this movie for the Japanese things – the language, the boys-being-boys style of the bandits, Ichi’s calm and polite kindness, the scenery, and the feel. If you aren’t sitting out your last 6 months in a dreary criminal town full of people you can’t trust, waiting to rejoin your partner in Japan, it probably won’t have such a powerful appeal…