Friday, January 22, 2010

Japan might be producing "Zatoichi: The Last", but that doesn't stop him from going to Korea

by Chris MaGee

Here's a bit of news that landed at 24 Frames per Second on Wednesday and has since gone into heavy rotation on Asian film blogs across the net. We all know that the venerable Zatoichi film franchise has gone through various permutations in the past few years. After the original screen Zatoichi, actor Shintaro Katsu, passed away in 1997 it looked as if the character of the wandering masseur/ lethal blind swordsman would die with him. Of course Takeshi Kitano proved that worng when he stepped into Zatoichi's geta with his 2003 take on the legendary screen icon, but after that things have gotten a bit strange. In 2008 "Ping Pong" and "Vexille" director Fumihiko Sori gave Zatoichi a radical makeover by casting startlet Haruka Ayase as a female blind swordswoman in "Ichi". Fans and critics weighed mostly in favour of this gender-bending adventure, but it hasn't spawned a sequel. Instead Toho tagged SMAP member Shingo Katori to star as Zatoichi in what is being pitched as "Zatoichi: The Last", the final screen appearance of the blind swordsman (read our full coverage of "Zatoichi: The Last" here). So we can assume that once Shingo Katori shows up in Toho's/ Junji Sakamoto's final Zatoichi film later this year that that really will be it. Well, that's what we all thought.

In the same way that the phenomenally popular TV series/ film franchise "Hana yori Dango (Boys Over Flowers)" made a transition to South Korea and got a fresh start on Korean TV (read our report here) it now looks like Zatoichi will be doing the same, not on TV though, but in a feature film. Lee Jun-ik, the man who helmed the "The King and the Clown", is directing an upcoming period action film titled "“Gureumeul Beoseonan Dalcheoreom (Like the Moon that Escaped the Cloud)”. The poster for this film, due out in Korean theatres in early summer, features star Hwang Jung-min as... yup, you guessed it... a wandering blind swordsman. Check out that poster image on the left and compare it to the original theatrical poster of "Zatoichi's Revenge" on the right. It's like looking into a mirror, isn't it? So, it looks like South Korea is the land of second chances for popular Japanese entertainment franchises. What will we get next? Tora-san?

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