DOLLS (DORUZU) (Takeshi Kitano, 2002) / ZATOICHI: THE BLIND SWORDSMAN
7 Ludlow St. between Canal & Hester Sts.
Dolls: Thursday, November 24, 4:30 & 9:00
Zatoichi: Friday, November 25, 4:00 & 9:00
Series runs through November 25
Hardboiled action director and comic Takeshi Kitano, who is best known for such violent films as Violent Cop, Sonatine, and Boiling Point, has also made family dramas and romances as well (Kikujiro, A Scene at the Sea), and Dolls might be his most emotional, introspective picture. Dolls opens with a Bunraku puppet theater excerpt from Monzaemon Chikamatsu’s The Courier for Hell before delving into the dark story of Matsumoto (Hidetoshi Nishijima) and Sawako (Miho Kanno). Matsumoto dumps Sawako so he can marry the boss’s daughter, but when Sawako tries to kill herself and ends up in a mental hospital, Mastumoto decides to take care of the speechless, frightened shell of a woman she has become. He leads her through the seasons, tied to her by a red cord, a pair of bound beggars. Two subplots, which we’re not sure were absolutely necessary, also deal with love and loss, obsession and desire. Joe Hisaishi’s music is gorgeous, as is Katsumi Yanagijima’s cinematography. Kitano, who wrote, directed, and edited Dolls, mixes in sensational colors to balance out black-and-white tuxedos or long patches of snow: You’ll be mesmerized by the red rope, a purple-and-black butterfly, Sawako’s pink child’s toy, a glowing blue bridge, Matsumoto’s bright yellow car, a green public phone, a blue drink, twirling pinwheels, a shockingly blue umbrella, a park filled with cherry blossoms, and Yohji Yamamoto’s sparkling costumes. The film is bleak, slow-paced, and heart-tuggingly pure, a rewarding experience that will stay with you for a long time.
Meanwhile, in the following year’s Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman, Kitano took on the Zatoichi legend that was a Japanese favorite from 1962 to 1989 (starring Shintaro Katsu), updating the story of the blind swordsman, gambler, and masseuse magnificently, adding a lot of blood while staying true to the heart of this classic tale. (Zatoichi is also referenced in Kitano’s 1995 Getting Any?) Beat Takeshi, the name Kitano uses as an actor, stars as the unlikely platinum blonde superhero who shuffles across the countryside battling the bad guys and rescuing damsels in distress. The film also features Tadanobu Asano as Hattori Gennosuke, Michiyo Okusu as O-ume, and Yui Natsukawa as O-shino. This was the first period film of Kitano’s career, and one in which he combined all the elements of his previous work to create an unforgettable masterpiece, a thrilling, beautifully shot (by Katsumi Yanagishima), and wonderfully realized cinematic achievement that suffers only at the very end with a silly coda that is just way too out of place. Dolls is screening on Thanksgiving Day and Zatoichi on November 25 in the Metrograph series “Takeshi ‘Beat’ Kitano,” which continues through Friday with Hana-Bi, Sonatine, Boiling Point, and Kikujiro.