“There’s a voice, keeps on calling me, down the road – that’s where I’ll always be….” Zatoichi is The Littlest Hobo. With a sword. And lots and lots of bloodshed. The kind of blodshed that would not have been suitable for Tuesday teatime, though I found the winsome adventures of a dull dog equally unsuitable for my entertainment. In Zatoichi, even the droplets of blood are entertaining*.

Like the minute mangy mutt however, the story of this (or any) particular adventure of Zatoichi has very little to do with him. He wanders in, almost like a force of nature, gets involved and solves a problem. Unlike similar characters, Drs Richard Kimble or David Banner, Zatoichi’s cure for said ills is usually massive bloodshed. Takeshi Kitano seems to enjoy the enigmatic icon, mumbling and shambling through the character motivational scenes of all the other characters. But we never find out who he is, why he is such a great swordsman – and it does not really matter. Kitano the director spends plenty of time distracting us from that in plenty of other ways.

Zatoichi has a lot in common with Kill Bill, in as much as it is a bunch of source material blended and thrown at a wall artfully to see if it will work. Generally it does. I missed Zatoichi himself in the climatic ensemble tap dance, but the film is willfully funny, dark and joyously bloodthirsty when it wants to be. There are issues about feudal Japan at the heart of the film, but only a curmudgeon would go to look for any overly serious theme (though the cross dressing Geisha is interesting). Instead take it as a primer, as a bit of cinematic fun, and take it as often as you can.

*Massive amounts of CGI bloodshed produces what looks like very unrealistic arcs and droplets. This is probably only because I am used to my bloodshed being explosive prosthetic pacs and sprayed out of squeezy bottles.