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Ichi (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

December 26, 2009 by  



Featuring an all-star cast and all the violence and swordplay you expect from a “Zatoichi” related title!  From the director “Ping Pong” and “Vexille” comes an action-driven drama that looks and sounds incredible on Blu-ray with lengthy special features to keep viewers entertained.

Images courtesy of © 2008 “ICHI” Film Partners. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Ichi

DURATION: 120 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (16×9), Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Japanese and English, Subtitles: English

RATED: R (Sequences of Bloody Violence and Brief Sexuality)

COMPANY: Sochiku/FUNimation Entertainment

RELEASE DATE: December 22, 2009

Directed by Fumihiko Sori

Story and characters by Kan Shimosawa

Produced by Toshiaki Nakazawa

Music by Michael Edwards, Lisa Gerrard

Cinematographer by Keiji Hashimoto

Edited by Mototaka Kusakabe

Art Direction by Takashi Sasaki

Starring:

Haruka Ayase as Ichi

Shido Nakamura as Banki

Yosuke Kobozuka as Toraji Shirakawa

Takao Osawa as Toma Fujihara

Ryosuke Shima as Kotaro

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.

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. Also starring Shidou Nakamura (Letters from Iwo Jima), with original music by Lisa Gerrard (Gladiator, Dead Can Dance).

Featuring an all-star cast and all the violence and swordplay you expect from a “Zatoichi” related title!

From Fumihiko Sori, the award-winning director of “Ping Pong” (2002)  and the animated film “Vexille” (2007) comes his next film “Ichi”. Based on the blind swordsmaster, the fictional character by novelist Kan Shimozawa has had well over 27 films created in relation to the character and in 2003, the Takeshi Kitano film “Zatoichi” received critical acclaim worldwide.  “Zatoichi” has also been a staple on Japanese television which aired from 1974-1979.

This time around, the 2008 film “Ichi” features a new storyline featuring the daughter of the popular blind swordsman.

Actress Haruka Ayase (“Hero”, “Boku no Kanojo wa Cyborg”, “Jin”, “Mr. Brain”) stars as Ichi, a homeless, blind shamisen musician who has been traveling village to village in search of her father.  Her travel takes her to a place where she lives with a blind prostitute who is taken advantage by a group of ronin thugs and now they have their eyes set on Ichi.

A man named Toma Fujihira (played by Takao Osawa, “Wakamono no Subete”, “Hoshi no Kinka”, “Hana”) comes to the rescue but instead of fighting with his sword, he offers to give the thugs money.  But the thugs have no plans to listen to Toma, in fact, they want to take the money and the money all at once and kill Toma.  But with Toma frozen and scared that he may die, Ichi comes to the rescue and Toma watches how Ichi easily kills the three thugs and to see how well-trained she is with her sword (like Zatoichi, the sword is inside her walking stick).

But with Ichi accidentally slashing up the money that Toma gave the thugs, when they stop to the next village, where they meet a young Kotaro (played by Ryosuke Shima) who helps and watches over Ichi.

Knowing they need money, Ichi helps him win his money back via gambling (using her gift of precise hearing).  A new group of thugs threaten Toma and want their money that they lost.  Again, when threatened, Toma is frozen and scared (unable to take his sword out of his sheath).  And yet again, Ichi easily kills all the thugs.

Toraji Shirakawa (played by Yosuke Kubozuka, “Ping Pong”, “Go”, “Makai Tensho”), the son of the owner of the inns in the village is impressed and assumes that Toma is responsible for killing the gang members.  It appears that this gang has had their control over the village and with a swordsman like Toma at their side, they can easily defend the inns.  So, Toma is offered plenty of money to become the village’s bodyguard.  Of course, Toma feels guilty for taking credit of something that Ichi did but he goes ahead and accepts the job.

While Toma is being celebrated by the village, he sees Ichi performing music for him.  Looking beautiful without the tattered clothing and messed up hair.  He becomes smitten by her and  when he goes to see her, he tries to prove that he’s not as cowardly or inept with a sword as she may think he is.  Despite Toma being afraid to fight, when he is with Ichi and challenges her to a one-on-one fight using wood and no sword, Toma beats her.  We learn that Toma is a talented swordsman but due to circumstances that happened in his past (which is shown in the film), he has not been able to unsheathe his sword.

Meanwhile, the leader of the gang, Banki (played by Shido Nakamura, “Death Note” films, “Gegege no Kitaro”, “Hachimitsu no Clover”) has had enough of his men being killed and checks all the dead bodies of his gang members that were killed and notices that the way they were killed was a technique which he knows of one person who could have done that… Zatoichi, the blind swordsman.  Now Banki wants the person who killed his men and this leads the Banki gang to ambush Shirakawa’s village and to find the swordsman responsible for his men’s death.

Will Toma be able to protect the village from the Banki gang?  Will he eventually win Ichi’s heart?  Will Ichi find her father?   Many questions that will be answered during the film.

VIDEO & AUDIO:

“Ichi” is presented in 1080p High Definition (16×9).  One thing that caught my eyes is capturing the Edo period through the various homes in the village, the traditional Japanese garb and trying to make things look as authentic in the film.  One thing that benefits the film is that its shot during the day when there is plenty of sunlight and thus, the vibrant colors of the green lush plants and the blue skies are nice and clear.  Detail of the wood of the villages and tatters on the clothing can also be seen quite well.  There is a fine grain of layer throughout the film.  Skin tones are natural and blacks are nice and deep.  Picture quality for “Ichi” is very good!

As for the lossless audio, the audio is presented in Japanese and English Dolby True HD 5.1.  English is up-to-par with previous FUNimation Entertainment English dubs for their films which is not my preference for Japanese live action films.  As for the Japanese lossless audio, dialogue is clear through the front and center channels.   Where the film definitely gets the added benefit for a lossless soundtrack is the music, in which you can hear the surround channels playing different drums during the taiko drum segments and also the use of front channels and subwoofer for action sequences that require a lot of bass.   That is one thing you will notice from the film is the amount of LFE.  A lot of it comes from the music as it tends to experiment with a lot of bass, but overall, good use of directing audio from the left and right surround channels as well as the front channels.

Subtitles are featured in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Ichi” comes with the following special features in 480i standard definition, Dolby Digital Japanese 2.0 with English subtitles:

  • Making Of –  (1:15:14) A documentary about the making of “Ichi”.  From the challenges of filming, Haruka Ayase playing blind and her learning how to sword fight is featured, her learning to play the shamisen and doing her own stunts.  To learning more about the filming of characters such as Shido Nakamura’s Banki, Takao Osawa’s Toma and playing a man with frustration of not being able to unsheathe his sword, filming of the Edo Period Bito Inns in Yamagata, the creation of the buildings and making sure the cameras can go 360 in the open set to Yosuke Kobozuka working on his first major period film and more.   The documentary also goes into cinematography, production and costume design.
  • VFX Making Of – (14:41) The making of the visual effects for the film and utilizing CG for the blood effects and cutting of cloth and body parts, snow sequences, outdoor sequences, butterflies and more.
  • Deleted Scenes – (17:41) Deleted scenes with commentary and English subtitles.  Director Fumihiko Sori discusses why the scenes were cut from the film.
  • Press Interviews in Theaters – (31:19) Featuring the director and cast of “Ichi” promoting the film to the public at various theaters.
  • Original Trailers – (3:10) The original theatrical trailers for “Ichi” (in Japanese with English subtitles).
  • Coming Soon – Trailers for live action Asian films available from FUNimation Entertainment.

As a fan of director Sori’s films, from “Ping Pong” to “Vexille”, you know that visual effects will play a part in the film.  But “Ichi” was actually quite interesting as it was a period film but also featuring a female protagonist.

My first impression before the film began was that I was very familiar with a lot of the talent on this film from Japanese dramas and cinema.  The film has well-known names such as “Hoshi no Kinka” actor Takao Osawa who has appeared in many drama and film, and then you have two well-known cinema stars with Shido Nakamura and Yosuke Kobozuka.   But the unknown for me was Haruka Ayase.   I’ve seen her in several Japanese drama but she’s always the cute actress, so to see her in the role of a blind woman who was trained by her father to wield a sword and to see her in such an action role was a bit of a surprise.  It took a lot of discipline on her part as she had to play blind, do her own stunts and learn how to use a sword a special way and also learn how to play the shamisen.

For the most part, talent-wise “Ichi” is well-cast but some of the direction of the characters were a bit too over-the-top for me.  I felt that Nakamura’s Banki was a bit too over-the-top evil with his facial expressions and I felt that Kobozuka’s Toraji Shirakawa needed to be fleshed out a bit.  But I have to admit that Takao Osawa’s role as Toma Fujihara was quite interesting.  At first I had no patience with his cowardly character but it was good to see how his character finds redemption.  As for Haruka Ayase as Ichi, she did a good job.  In Japan, we have seen several films of popular actresses taking the role in period films and are well-trained in the art of swordfighting.

But it all comes down to execution.  Part of the difficulty that I would imagine director Sori happening is to followup Takeshi Kitano’s “Zatoichi” which was a fantastic film.  One thing where Sori’s visual effects came to play quite successfully is the visual effects, especially with the blood.  In “Zatoichi”, Kitano wanted an artistic style for the blood and it was CG that was fine years ago but in 2008, viewers expect something a bit more and for the most part, blood effects were very good.  Although, the blood on some of the characters seemed quite a bit bright at times.  But for the most part, visual effects were nicely done.

As for the Blu-ray release, I was quite pleased with the overall package.  PQ and AQ were solid and special features were quite lengthy, so I was very pleased with that.

Overall, “Ichi” definitely had its challenges, especially with “Zatoichi” still fresh in the mind of viewers.  For the most part, the film was entertaining and it definitely was an interesting take of the Zatoichi mythos by introducing a daughter trained by her father in the art of swordfighting.  At 120 minutes, the film could have been shortened and certain character’s storylines being fleshed out a bit more.

As mentioned, I felt Shido Nakamura overacted in the role of Banki and Osawa’s Toma was a bit infuriating at first with his cowardice but in the end, the film manages to keep the viewers satisfied (I suppose depending if you were expecting a love story or an action/drama film).  But if you enjoyed Aya Ueto in the film “Azumi”, I have no doubt that one will find Haruka Ayase quite entertaining in “Ichi”.  The fact that she won the 2008 Nikan Sports Film Award for “Best Actress” shows that Japanese viewers for the newspaper publication were content with her performance.

In the end, “Ichi” is a good film, not great but in the end, you’ll feel entertained.  With the Blu-ray release, it helps when you get solid PQ, AQ and lengthy special features.  So, if you are curious about this film, then definitely, it’s a Blu-ray release worth checking out!






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