Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!
Plot Summary: A blind swordswoman, searching for her mentor, must fight her way through a horde of bandits wreaking havoc on a small town.
Review: There was no way my original review was doing my girl, Haruka Ayase, the justice she deserved--it's time we amend that just as I did with "Cyborg Girl." Come to think of it, this and "Cyborg Girl" came out the same year...twas a good year! Now, before we get ahead of ourselves, I'll lay out a few factoids. If the cover weren't a giveaway, this movie clearly has nothing to do with "Ichi-the Killer" which I should get around to reviewing at some point. Instead, this is a female take on the infamous Zatoichi character from Japanese cinema. If you're interested, there are like a million movies about Zatoichi, but I've only ever watched like one randomly. Here, things are not as simple as a gender swap since it's greatly implied that Zatoichi existed in this universe and was this Ichi's father (probably). At the same time, this Ichi still embodies the personality, style, and tropes of Zatoichi so it's worth a viewing for those that are familiar with the source material. Okay, enough of this nonsense, let's get to the review and my dear Ms. Ayase!
Cool sky, sexy babe singing...what more could you want?
So, surprising no one, the best aspect is Ichi herself. Ms. Ayase is so dreamy in all her roles, but she actually is an amazing actress. She always brings a lot of conviction to her characters and a stoic warrior works wonders; likewise, she does well with the blindness depiction and demonstrates an attention for detail. I must confess it sucks not to get even a tease of that voluptuous body she's working with, but she is one of the only chickadees that can still make rags look sexy. Anyway, Ichi is a genuine badass, and it's fun to see her slice her way through bandit after bandit. As with Zatoichi, the fighting style of using backhand strikes is interesting to see in action. Plus, I like the way she clutches at her walking cane that conceals her sword; it makes her look so helpless to bad guys who don't have a clue to what's coming. Ichi's backstory is a bit hazy, but it's good enough to explain why she avoids outright helping people. I guess she's somewhat of an antihero in this regard; though, she does come around by the end. The last thing I'll say about my girl is that I liked that they didn't make her invincible since she lost to the main villain and needed help to finally beat him as well. This felt realistic given the experience gap between her and the villain.
Okay, so let's say Haruka is not doing it for you...for some reason. Well, you still have a solid action movie with pretty good pacing considering the running time is just shy of two hours. Fights are fast-paced and mostly realistic without a lot of flashy exchanges. Pretty much everyone is dead in one or two strikes with a couple exceptions. Even the main bad guy doesn't get a massive battle. Sure, this approach may not feel as satisfying if you're expecting a 20 minute duel a la Anakin vs Obi-wan. There are drama and romance elements as well, but I believe the true strength of the film lies with the action and seeing Ichi. Essentially, you are following Ichi's journey and her realization that there are things in life worth fighting for. The set designs are good and the music helps though it's not quite my taste. I wish a little more time was spent showing off Japan's rural landscape, but I got the feeling that there were budget restrictions despite the heavily polished look to the production.
As much as I enjoy "Ichi," I have to acknowledge the flaws. One you will notice out the gate is the CGI blood. This truly perplexed me since we still typically see the makeup effects for the wounds afterward as well as the physical fake blood...so why bother with the CGI?! There is also one guy who gets his throat slit, and the effect is fucking HORRENDOUS! We are talking so shitty I nearly took half a point off just for that nasty blemish. Connected to this pointlessness is the cartoonish look of the villains. For a film that was grounding itself in reality did we really need these over the top goofs? I think there might have been somewhat of an influence from "Azumi" in this regard. Mmmm...Ichi and Azumi...what a fantasy. Sorry, where was I? Oh yeah, I was about to discuss the biggest flaw of all: the love interest, Toma. Ugh. He's annoying and his backstory is beyond contrived...goodie! He's not quite Jar Jar level, but he is in no way remotely worthy of Ichi. He's too much of a damn coward, but, more ridiculous, they made him a supposedly better fighter than Ichi! Oh good lord. His whole spiel is that he can't draw his sword anymore after conveniently blinding his mom in an accident. This plot line is stupid and makes his attraction to Ichi so much creepier since it's like he sees her as an extension of mommy. Bleh. This is why I just imagine myself in the story the whole way through...so much more thrilling that way! If he at least weren't such a little bitch-boy I wouldn't have minded, but, hey, at least he does die so that's a huge plus.
Don't get all bent out of shape over that bitch-boy dying, my dear.
Overall, this is an engaging film well worth your time. Although there are problems strewn about, nothing is substantially hindering the experience. I do have my gripes with the romance subplot, but it's not like it's a huge part of the story; some people might actually enjoy it as well. Definitely come for Ms. Ayase killing it as Ichi and stay for the action scenes. The action isn't quite as relentless as the ADHD crowd might need it to be, but the average moviegoer should be fine. The dramatic portions could have been a tad more emotional, but the story will pull you in sufficiently especially if you grow attached to Ichi's journey. Obviously this film isn't for everyone, but those who enjoy Asian cinema or like to see hot chicks kicking ass will be thoroughly entertained.
Don't make her mad!
Notable Moment: When Ichi slices the lantern in the dark (the only light source mind you) and then dispenses with five goons in the blink of an eye. It's just such a badass scene that highlights Ichi's true capabilities.
Final Rating: 7/10