The eponymous hero appeared in a series of popular Japanese films (this appears to be a boxed set of them, but the buyers’ reviews are for the 2004 version) before Takeshi Kitano ressurected and updated him. The blind masseur-cum-swordsman, as played by the director, sports blonde hair and a red cane sword to complement his deep blue clothes. Wandering into a town in finest enigmatic stranger style, he quickly becomes embroiled in matters of revenge and gang war.
Despite the regular bursts of high energy sword play, the pace of the film is gentle. Not slow, every scene is rich in details and the narrative never drags, there’s momentum here rather than the lightweight speed of a regular blockbuster. The comedy feels odd at first, being more whimsical than action movie in-your-face.
Digital effects are well used, bringing life to spurting blood, severed limbs and the occasional sword blade. The Wachowskis could learn a thing or two about subtle use of FX from Beat Takeshi.
Ultimately there are few surprises. The ronin is doomed, the hero tested but not bested and everyone gets what they deserve. What’s most important, as they say about all great journeys, is how we reach the end.