Monday, January 11, 2010

Blu-ray Review: Ichi

he Zatoichi series is well-known among lovers of Asian cinema. The tale about a blind swordsman traveling the countryside of Japan and saving villagers is a very old concept indeed. It’s a classic theme and mirrors many of the sentiments found in other samurai films. While there have been many spin-offs and films with this particular ideal, FUNimation’s latest release, Ichi, aims to stand out in a sea of “me too’s”.

Ichi is about a blind woman (Haruka Ayase) of the same name who is traveling the countryside looking for a person from her past. Along the way she gets into one situation or another, but despite her handicap she’s more than capable of taking care of herself. The wooden cane she uses to feel her way around also doubles as a razor sharp sword, and she uses a backhanded technique to slice her way through anyone that gives her trouble or tries to harm her. That seems to happen quite a bit actually, and at the start of the film she finds herself being harassed by some bandits. Lucky for her a wandering ronin named Toma (Takao Ôsawa) happens to come by at the exact same time.

Actually...scratch that last sentence. Toma is the way who actually needs saving when he can’t pull his sword out of its sheath (there’s a bit of a lame story about this, but more on that later). Despite being blind, Ichi slices their assailants to pieces and wanders off on her own to continue searching. Toma follows her, offering to protect her on her journey and complains how she cost him money. Ichi decides to help pay him back in a gambling parlor when they make their way to an inn town, but things take a turn for the worse when bandits confront them claiming Toma was cheating. Ichi kills them all in no time flat and one misunderstanding leads to another and soon enough the villagers think Toma did it and purchase his protection services from the bandit’s leader, Banki (Shido Nakamura).

From this point Ichi goes on to push the story forward in rather predictable ways. I won’t divulge any of the details, but let’s just say if you’re looking at a samurai film with bandits and two heroes I think you can put two and two together. The movie also goes on to work on the relationship between Ichi and Toma in a predictable, safe manner. None of this is necessarily bad, but it does dull the impact of Ichi quite a bit. The overall story is entertaining, though it doesn’t stand out as much as it should.

Lack of originality aside Ichi has some other issues with the film that hold it back. The pace is much slower than one would think with very little in the way of action. Sure there are the random fight scenes and flashbacks here and there, but the bulk of the fighting is saved until the end for the climactic battle against Banki (which is dragged out, oddly enough). The acting is also not very good by most standards. Ayase, for her part, does an incredible job as Ichi. Unfortunately everybody else hams it up. Nakamura as Banki is just a terrible pick. The character becomes such a joke and it takes away from some of the dramatic moments. Some other nitpicks from watching the film include a guy with a wig that looks like it came from Wayne Newton’s closet of wigs and some tacky looking CGI blood.
Ichi is presented on Blu-ray with an anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio. The film also hits Blu-ray with a full 1080p resolution with AVC-MPEG4 encoding. The picture quality of the feature is very good with some nice detail and strong use of colors. Shadows and black levels are rich and all around there’s a nice contrast in the picture. There’s a certain crispness to the picture that is welcome and helps to bring out some of the subtler details. With that being said some grain in the background becomes apparent and distracting in a couple of scenes, but these instances are few and far between. Overall this is a solid video package for Ichi.

For audio presentation Ichi comes with Dobly Digital TrueHD 5.1 tracks for both English and Japanese languages. The quality is very good with no flaw on either track. The output for both selections is clean, sharp, and maintains a solid presence on the soundstage. It’s not the most boisterous audio package out there, but it’s more than serviceable and compliments the film well enough. Dialogue is clean and clear, music is booming at times, and the action plays across the channels effectively.

All the bonus features on this Blu-ray of Ichi are presented in 480p and come with Dolby Digital 2.0 for audio, sadly enough. For starters there is a massively comprehensive “Making of” featurette which clocks in at over an hour (1 hr 15 min to be exact). This supplemental includes several behind the scenes shots and commentary from cast and crew as well as an examination of many of the film’s fight scenes. Up next is “VFX Making of” (14:41) which looks at some of the film’s digital effects, though they were hit or miss throughout the film. This feature is a bit on the dry side, but interesting from a technical standpoint. Over seventeen minutes worth of deleted scenes are included on Ichi, thirty minutes worth of interviews at a theater event, original trailers for the film, and some trailers for other FUNimation live-action releases.

Despite the film’s flaws I actually enjoyed Ichi quite a bit. Ayase’s take on the blind swordswoman traveling from village to village is certainly the most compelling component of this film, but there are many fun moments to be had as well. The samurai-saves-the-villagers theme is a little too overplayed, but it’s handled deftly enough despite lacking originality. The climax of the film is relatively dry though and in the end I’d say Ichi is more a middle of the road movie instead of a must-see. Solid A/V quality all around and some great bonus features definitely bolster the overall rating of this Blu-ray. A recommendation for sure, but it’s more for those who love samurai films and want something familiar, yet different.

Maki Rating:

Review material provided by FUNimation.

No comments:

Post a Comment