With a script without flair, the only redeeming qualities lie with a fair amount of visual aesthetics and great acts by its female lead Ayase Haruka and antagonist Nakamura Shido. Ichi decides to go beyond (brief) action to dwell into narration depth but falls short with its dull pace. A companion film for Zatoichi fans.
Ichi honours 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 of Iwo Jima), with original music by Lisa Gerrard (Gladiator, Dead Can Dance).
Ichi may be viewed as a female version of Kitano's Zatoichi, although plot wise it is hinted at the father-daughter relationship between both.
Ayase plays Ichi in a great amount of emotional detail, where cautious restraints were practiced as a blind goze (singer) accordingly. With her eyes fixed as blank stares into curious space, it isn't easy to perfect the facial expressions especially with several closeups in the film.
Commendable supporting cast performance is noticed in Ichi, especially those of Nakamura Shidou (Letters of Iwo Jima) who played the evil bandit overlord. His role may have been played out with a crazed demeanour, but his character is attached with a past history that hinted of a time when he used to be good and just.
But it wasn't explored further in the film.
As a goze who is well-trained in backhanded swordsmanship, the action sequences were adequately satisfying albeit often gone in a flash. The action could have been better set up and edited with a greater mix of wide shots and closeup to instill a better sense of action and direction. That said, the editing for the film was fine.
I noticed that the mesmerising visuals could have also been attributed to the colour grading of the film, where there is an occasional tint of purple. This makes a good example of how cinematography and post production both have roles to play to achieve technical synergy.
The original music by Lisa Gerrard (who scored Gladiator) and Michael Edwards was full of grace and soul, despite deviating the feel away from oriental. The moving music admittedly allowed the film to stand out among the several Japanese swordsmen period films.
That said, all the cast and technical excellence were unfortunately bottlenecked by the inferior script and the unnecessary slow pacing. From the making of Ichi, I learnt that Director Sori Fumihiko has planned for more scenes to be included but were taken out. Thank goodness for that.
Ichi may not be the ideal film as a spinoff of the Zatoichi series, but it would have been with a better team of screenwriters.