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Solid in its Presentation

  • Dec 23, 2009

Ichi is one of those films that I’ve been meaning to tackle for some time. The look, the feel, the mood, and the mythological elements are all of undeniable Asian influence.  Yes there are undefeatable principles at play within that span beyond the swordplay and action elements in the foreground.  Before we look at the excellent philosophical tones of the picture, let’s get the hard facts out of the way.

Coming in at a 120-minute runtime, Ichi consists of the full-length feature film on a single disc housed within a standard clamshell DVD case. The show wears an appropriate if not slightly conservative Restricted ® rating due to violent imagery, swordplay, digital gore and a healthy dose of character-driven drama.

Language options are typical sub & dub meaning both the original Japanese vocal track is present as well the choice of an English dub (either presented in 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound) with the option of running English subtitles available with either vocal track.
The story, which has to be watched to be fully understood (or appreciated for that matter), goes something like this: Ichi, the female incarnation of the legendary blind swordsman Zatoichi, is herself a blind master of the blade and roams about town with her shamisen (a three-stringed Japanese guitar) in a mission to locate the man who helped raise her. Alone the way she happens upon no shortage of unsavory characters (rapists, thieves, and hustlers) looking to take advantage of her.

Ichi is no pushover, as the baddies soon discover in dramatic visual style, and defends herself with spectacular swordplay time and time again.  Shot in a blend of slow and regular motion segments, and with digital blood spurting wildly, the film is a testament to the charms of Asian cinema (and calls to mind some of Quentin Tarantino’s frequent homage in films such as “Kill Bill”).

As the prose develops, so too does the cast increase with Ichi herself gaining the companionship of a young male traveling partner despite the fact that she is by far the better sword wielder.  Haruka Ayase’s performance as Ichi seems to depend heavily upon the viewer’s expectations going into the film.  I found her to be convincing enough and somehow proud despite her attire of rags but it appears as though fans of Shintaro Katsu's original Japanese television incarnation of the mythos are quite divided on this casting choice.

Villains, as is par for the course in these situations, are a bit over the top in my opinion (Nakamura Shidou in particular).  However, while this may be a large detractor in an American big budget film, the Japanese have a habit of making the unbelievable believable through gritty ambiance and dialog that doesn’t oversimplify character motivations.

Shooting locations and cinematography are particularly noteworthy for their massive scope and stunning vistas (particularly some of the snow segments, which can send a chill through even the most well-wrapped blanketed viewer).

The downside is that this simply isn’t a piece of Asian cinema that will capture and hold the attention of the casual viewer.  The pacing and plotting often become a bit bogged down upon themselves with an excessive of moments of silent reflection, brooding sighs, and artistic framing.  For the most part this all works, but there will invariably be those a bit put-off by the pace fluctuations throughout (especially those viewers accustomed to the fast-cut American method of contemporary filmmaking).

The sound score is perhaps the biggest surprise with some really nice keys that go a long way in complementing the whimsical backgrounds.

In all, the picture works best when approached as a visually striking romp through a fairly historically accurate setting.  Digging too deeply into the mythos seems to reveal complaints in many forms and the cast is a bit too inconsistent to win over the masses.  Perhaps such complaints sound harsh, but the truth of the matter is that there is a lot of entertainment to be found here so long as you don’t let expectations of grandeur bury it.
Solid in its Presentation

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April 16, 2010
This really is a well thought out review. it sounds like one that American audiences wouldn't appreciate which may be why Woop with his passion for Asian cinema was a bit kinder towards it in his rating.
December 23, 2009
well put! splendid job you've done here, buddy! I am with you on your rating, although I was a little more generous with my 3.5. If you like Ayase, make sure you check out CYBORG SHE aka. Cyborg Girl. It is very good.
December 23, 2009
Thank you kind sir, I really and honestly have to say that your review was priceless going in. I think had I gone in there with my original expectations, I would have been disappointed. Props belong to you on this one William. Now I'm off to check out your take on Cyborg SHE.
More ICHI the Blind Swordswoman reviews
review by . June 06, 2009
posted in ASIANatomy
3 ½ Stars: The Female
ICHI THE BLIND SWORDSWOMAN (2008) is a redux of Zatoichi, the Blind Swordsman; the classic Jidai Geki TV series. Directed by Fumihiko Sori, (Vexille, "Ping Pong"), with screenplay by Shimosawa Kan; this film switches the gender of the lead character, has significant improvements but it also lacks some of the original's strengths. "Ichi" stars beautiful Japanese bikini model/actress Ayase Haruka, and this is her follow up role to "Cyborg She" (which I will review …
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Ranked #14
Jason Rider (AKA OneNeo on Amazon.com) is the author of the successful children's fantasy novel series The Uncommon Adventures of Tucker O'Doyle from Bellissima Publishing.      … more
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A redux of the classic and long-running "Zatoichi" franchise, Ichi is a blind musician who happens to have incredible sword fighting skills. In her quest to find the man who brought her up, she encounters numerous swindlers, villains, and gangsters who try to take advantage of her disability, but she fights back using the sword hidden inside her walking stick. Some time into her journey, she meets Toma, a cowardly samurai whom Ichi ends up saving from the ruthless Banki gang. The pair unwittingly become entangled in a turf war between two factions vying for control of a pivotal village, while Ichi learns that the outcome of the conflict might determine if she will find the man she is looking for. -Hkflix.com
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