by Chris MaGee
Way back... and I'm talking way back last May we reported how Sedic International and Celluloid Dreams were going to be teaming up to produce “projects with an international potential”. One of those mentioned was what was perported to be the very last Zatoichi film. At that point director Junji Sakamoto (Kao, Chameleon) was attached to helm the project and that that pre-production work, including the building of an entire Edo era town had already been going on for two years. You think that with that kind of major prep work that something else would have shown up online, but there was nothing. That is until today.
Tokyograph finally has details on the film which appropriately is titled "Zatoichi: The Last". Principal photography on the film began just last Sunday in Yamagata Prefecture with Sakamoto in the director's and (wait for it) Shingo Katori as the Zatoichi. I can hear a few of you now, "You mean SMAP Shingo Katori?" Indeed we do. The 32-year-old member of boy band SMAP and star of the embarrassingly goofy 2007 manga adaptation "Saikyuki: Monkey Magic" (above left) will be stepping into the shoes of the iconic blind swordsman.
Okay, let's get this straight... First we had Shintaro Katsu who absolutely embodied the character of the wandering blind masseuse with some serious fighting skills for 27 years and 26 films, but with his death in 1989 it looked like Zatoichi would go to the grave with Katsu. Then in 2003 none other than Takeshi Kitano took on the character, helming and starring in what turned out to be the biggest success in Kitano's directorial career. Many of us out there kept our fingers crossed that he would return as Zatoichi, but no such luck. Instead we had a major twist on the genre with 23-year-old actress Haruka Ayase starring in Fumihiko Sori's "Ichi", which to be fair I've yet to see, but the idea of a female Zatoichi made me a bit nervous. Now we have yet another pop idol turned actor taking on one of the most venerable roles in Japanese cinema and pop culture? Now I'm really getting nervous.
Toho, who will be the distributor of the film, are hoping to have "Zatoichi: The Last" completed for the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, but until then we'll keep updating you as news leaks out.