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January 07, 2010


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Fumihiko Sori - 2008
Funimation Region 1 DVD

Beyond the gimmick of reimagining the venerable blind swordsman as a young woman, Ichi works because, beyond the blindness and the swordplay, the titular character has little resemblance to the source of inspiration. Shintaro Katsu's itinerant masseur was stocky, not handsome, and almost cartoonish when his ears twitched or his nostrils flared at the hint of nearby bad guys. Haruka Ayase's Ichi is much more reserved, playing her character with a consistent seriousness of purpose. Likewise, Fumihiko Sori plays it straight by having the men discuss Ichi's attractiveness, while not exploiting Ayase's beauty, unlike some of the recent manga inspired films with female action heroes.

Just as Zatoichi, as a blind person, was a masseur, one of the professions allowed him, Ichi is a musician, refered to as a goze. Kicked out of the house she was part of for allegedly seducing the husband of the house mistress, Ichi is seeking the man who may know about her father. Traveling with her is Toma, a would-be swordsman, hoping to be a bodyguard. The two come against Banki, a former samurai who now leads an army of bandits who are currently terrorizing a small resort town. The main characters are physically or psychologically damaged, with Toma incapable of drawing his sword after accidentally blinding his mother, and Banki hiding the damaged part of his burnt face, ready to stare down everyone with his one good eye. The story is also about Ichi's mistrust of a world she cannot see.

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Fumihiko Sori is still a relatively new director, with a career that straddles both live action films and anime. His debut film, Ping Pong won attention and prizes with its story about two high school boys, and their unlikely friendship and rivalry. In ping pong, as in sword fighting, duels are won by skill and endurance. Sori does soup up the action with some hyper editing, but not so much to make the action incomprehensible. The flash backs explain just a little regarding Ichi's past, but may be deliberately vague assuming future sequels are in the works. Where Sori comes closest to anime is with the character of the leering, laughing Banki and his thugs, with their exaggerated faces reminiscent of the highly expressive faces sometimes seen In Japanese scrolls.

Something of a bonus, at least for me, is that the soundtrack was composed by Lisa Gerrard with Michael Edwards. The music will be familiar to anyone who has heard Dead Can Dance or Gerrard's solo albums, as well as her previous film work. Gerrard's music works well with the film, perhaps because Gerrard's vocals convey the constant sadness and sense of isolation of Ichi. It is this seriousness of purpose that makes Ichi a much better film than its premise might suggest. A lesser filmmaker might have gone for burlesque in more than one usage of that word. Even if Ichi turns out to be a one shot rather than a franchise, it is worth seeing for the way Sori and Ayase create a female action hero who does not cater to a juvenile male audience, but instead maintains dignity even in the worse situations.

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Posted by peter at January 7, 2010 12:11 AM


Ooooh, damn, I want to see this.

Posted by: Rod at January 11, 2010 08:51 PM