The Bye Bye Man
The Bye Bye Man is the kind of film that is so boring and bereft of anything of possible interest that it becomes infuriating.
"The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi" embodies the kinds of contradictory elements that make Takeshi Kitano Japan's most intriguing contemporary actor-director. He plays, as usual, a man with an impassive face, few words, and sudden bursts of action that end in a few seconds. He is vastly amused at private jokes. He has a code, but enforces it according to his own rules. And then there is the style of the movie, and what only can be called its musical numbers.
Kitano, who acts under the name Beat Takeshi, has played mostly modern tough guys, but here he ventures back to the 19th century to step into the shoes of Zatoichi, a blind swordsman who was the hero in one of the two most popular movies series in Japanese history. Zatoichi was always played by Shintaro Katsu, who appeared in 26 of these films before his death in 1989. (Toro-San, a sort of Japanese Jerry Lewis, was played by Kiyoshi Atsumi in no less than 48 films between 1969 and 1995.)
Kitano playing Zatoichi is a little like Clint Eastwood playing Hopalong Cassidy; the star brings along a powerful persona that redefines the pop superficiality of his character. He poses as a humble wandering blind masseur whose hearing and instinct are so razor-sharp that he knows better what is going on around him than those who are limited to sight. He walks with a slight stoop, sometimes smiles or laughs to himself, carries his head cocked to one side, never seems tense or coiled, and then in an instant his cane-sword has found its target.
In its broadest outlines, "Zatoichi" is a revenge drama. The blind swordsman encounters on his travels two sisters (one actually a transvestite) who work as geishas at a wayside rest station. They were orphaned when their parents were killed by the merciless Ginzo gang, which shakes down small merchants. Zatoichi learns about their story, and although he never declares his intention to do anything, eventually the gang's retainers begin to die while trying to kill him. Finally all comes down to a duel between Zatoichi and the crime boss' high-priced bodyguard Hattori (Tadanobu Asano), a warrior of fierce talents.