Liz Shackleton If you ask anyone outside Japan to name a Japanese director, still alive and making movies today, chances are they'll mention 'Beat' Takeshi Kitano. The multi-talented 55-year-old is revered as a cult icon in many parts of the world, and is an almost permanent fixture on Japanese TV, but his movies haven't broken into the mainstream, even in Japan. His most recent film, Zatoichi, could change that. Based on one of Japan's most popular film series - about a blind masseur and gambler who is also a master swordsman - it seems to have several elements that could score big with the multiplex generation. Fan-boys all over the world have been drooling at the prospect of Japan's coolest director reworking this cult film series. But as the film is a period drama with sumptuous costumes, designed by fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto, it also contains something for more mature audiences, while the action and swordfights will appeal to the kids. The film, which wrapped last month, marks the first time Kitano has directed a period piece and, while he's renowned for the stylised violence of the gunfights in films such as Boiling Point and Sonatine, it's also the first time he's been let loose with a sword. It's safe to say he'll stamp his own distinctive visual style on the swashbuckling genre. 'Since this is my first attempt at directing a period piece, I wanted to reconstruct the tradition of the genre, especially the sword fighting scenes,' Kitano said. 'With the help of our choreographer, I consciously composed the sword fighting to have a more intense and realistic look, unlike typical period films where victims fall even though the sword doesn't come close to touching their bodies.' Kitano stars as the title character, Zatoichi, who wanders into a town run by sinister gangs and meets two mysterious geishas who are avenging their parents' murder. The original series of films, starring Shintaro Katsu, ran for 26 installments between 1962 and 1989, compared to which the Star Wars franchise looks like a flash in the pan. 'In Japan, the Zatoichi character has been virtually synonymous with the late Mr Shintaro Katsu,' said Kitano. 'From the beginning, I was aware that if I was going to play this character, I had to direct the film myself and make Zatoichi my own. The first thing I did was to dye my hair blond.' The film also stars Asano Tadanobu, who has built a loyal following in Japan for his offbeat roles in films such as Taboo and Ichi The Killer. Adding to the general mayhem is a soundtrack by Keiichi Suzuki, from the Japanese rock group Moonriders, and a tap dance performance by 'funk-a-step' group The Stripes. Zatoichi is scheduled for release in Japan this September but at the time of writing it still wasn't confirmed which company would distribute the film in Hong Kong. However, Battle Royale II, in which Kitano reprises his role as a menacing school teacher, opened in Japan last weekend and is scheduled for release in Hong Kong this August. The original splatterfest, about a group of school kids who are forced to slaughter each other in a government-backed murder game, was directed by Japanese legend Kinji Fukasaku, who last year vowed to make a sequel despite the fact that he was battling cancer. However, Fukasaku died aged 72 on January 12, and direction of the sequel passed to his son Kenta. The second film, which also stars Sonny Chiba, is set three years after the original, when a group of students are goaded into taking sides in a 'war on terrorism'. Japanese teenagers queued up to see the original, particularly after members of parliament slammed the film for its extreme violence. The sequel is expected to be one of the biggest releases in Japan this summer. On a much more mellow note, principal photography also recently wrapped on Out Of This World, a drama about jazz musicians in Tokyo two years after the end of the Second World War. Directed by Junji Sakamoto - currently one of Japan's hottest directors with credits including political thriller KT - the film stars Scottish actor and director Peter Mullan as an American soldier, along with a host of Japanese stars including Joe Odagiri (Bright Future) and Masato Hagiwara (Chaos). The story follows a group of jazz musicians who dream of making the big time after being forced to hide their passion for 'the enemy's music' during the war.