Takeshi Kitano will direct and star in a feature film version of the Japanese Zatoichi film series, playing the title role of the blind masseur and master swordsman.

The original series of films, starring Shintaro Katsu, began in 1962 and ran for 26 episodes, until 1989. It has long been one of the most successful Japanese film franchises abroad, primarily on video and now DVD.

Kitano (pictured) will begin shooting the film this spring for an autumn release through Shochiku and his own Office Kitano company. Production partners and co-stars have yet to be announced.

The winner of the Golden Lion prize at the 1997 Venice Film Festival for Hana-Bi, Kitano has since been trying to broaden the audience for his films in Japan and abroad, including the yakuza thriller Brother and his most recent, the romantic drama Dolls. Zatoichi, however, appears to be his boldest attempt yet to move into the commercial mainstream.

The artwork featured in the article is the cover of the THE TALE OF ZATOICHI available on DVD from Home Vision Entertainment