Beautiful Ichi wanders blindly from village to village, searching for the sightless swordsman who long ago taught her to kill. Her technique is exquisite and explosive, her defenses as impenetrable as the darkness in which she moves. Many along her solitary path are touched - some by the sound of her delicate music, others by the edge of her lethal blade.
What They Say
Ichi honors the classic tale of the blind samurai while casting the legend in breathtaking new light. In a role traditionally played by men, award-winning actress Haruka Ayase is both tender and brutal.
The feature contains both an English and Japanese 5.1 track. For this review the Japanese track was selected for the viewing. The audio is primarily center speaker driven with no drop outs or distortions being noticed. The track does a wonderful job with the presentation of dialogue as well as other sounds from the film such as the wind blowing or the slice of a sword.
Originally made in 2008 the video is a a fairly positive one with a decent amount of grain being present and only a few spots of dot crawl.
The cover is a great shot of Ichi preparing to draw her sword against a gray/white background that helps accentuate her as well as does give a touch of feel for the darkness she lives in. The spine is a standout pink with a rope like pattern that suggest a book binding. The back cover has a shot used for the menu of Ichi surrounded and preparing to draw her blade as well as 9 smaller stills from the feature. The disc also came with a slip cover that mirrors the DVD cover but with a more metalic look to it.
The menu is a static shot of Ichi surrounded by some thugs and preparing to draw. A very simple yet haunting track plays through what seems to be its' entirety of just over a minute and a half. The menu is quick to respond and the sub menus each feature a different shot-the most apropos one being the language selection which has a still of Ichi tuning her instrument
This feature contains no extras.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The film opens with a lone figure fighting it's way through a snowstorm. We then find the figure playing a shamisen in the doorway of a household hoping to find shelter but being refused. The figure winds up in a small building just outside the property when a servant comes out bringing food from the household figuring the traveler would be there. Upon seeing the traveler is a beautiful young woman the servant attempts to accost her only to discover that blind doesn't equal helpless and just because a sword isn't in plain sight doesn't mean there isn't one present at the cost of most of two fingers. As he runs off a glimpse is found of the coldness Ichi lives in with both her blindness and her personality.
The scene then morphs to one of her childhood as Ichi remembers traveling in the snow as a member of group of goze (a class in fuedal Japan that blind women were in who organized themselves in order to try to make a living often as musicians). Her reminiscence is broken up by the woman who is living at the temple she is currently at who makes her living through prostitution. The woman through talking with Ichi provides the exposition that goze are driven from their groups when they have an affair with a man which provides some clues as to why Ichi is seen as she is by the people she encounters. Ichi sits quietly behind the temple as the woman conducts her business and then starts being beaten by three thugs when she demands payment.
One of the thugs notices Ichi behind the temple and as they are about to accost her before she can act a wayward swordsman interrupts and rather than drawing on them offers a promissory note of some worth to the men to leave well enough alone. The men decide to take the note and Ichi and confront the swordsman who can not draw his sword. Just as he is about to be struck Ichi makes her move and dispatches the three thugs with little effort using the sword hidden in her cane. The swordsman introduces himself as Fujihira Toma and engages her in some humorous banter about how his note got damaged while he was "saving her" much to Ichi's amusement. A kind of debt is repaid when they come across an inn town and she follows him to gambling establishment and she helps him win quietly from the side by hearing how the dice fall until he reaches the amount of the note upon which she leaves. Toma follows and they are set upon by the losers from the gaming hall who belong to a gang called Banki-to who have been besieging the town and Toma shows some hint of skill in avoiding them though Ichi again takes care of them all. Some of the townspeople come across them and mistake the work as Toma's. Toma is then hired to help repel the gang from the town despite his reluctance.
It is revealed that Ichi is traveling looking for the person who taught her her sword technique which the leader of the Bangi-to seems to have recognized as he has only ever seen it once before. He used to be a swordsman of great renown in employ of a government official until he got burned and was forced out and started his gang. The film then progresses on its' path to the climax by revealing the different scars the main cast carry with them (be it physical or psychological) and how each character will either come to terms with those scars and begin to move past them or if they will continue to let their past consume their present and futures like an angry flame.
The film gives some absolutely lush scenery and clothing that stands in contrast to the brutality of the word that the characters inhabit. The film does a good job with developing of its' characters and their motivations even if some are a touch cliche and handled a little ham-fistedly at times. It really shines in the moments where it goes beyond the cliche for subtle scenes and the nuances the actors put into their roles. As a period film many fans of the genera can see a number of the twists coming but the film handles them with a deft hand that can allow one to move past the familiar and embrace the work as a whole.
Ichi is a film that both pays homage to its' predecessors (both period films in general and the Zatoichi films in particular) without losing itself in all the cliches and creating realistic characters that the audience hopes to see grow throughout the film. The bonus is to be found in the spectacular scenery and very well choreographed fights. This film is highly recommended to period film fans and even those who don't love the genera may find their time well spent with this work.
Japanese 5.1 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles