• Kyodo

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Takeshi Kitano has won the Open 2003 special award at the Venice Film Festival with his first samurai movie, “Zatoichi.”

“Zatoichi,” the tale of a blind Japanese sword master, became widely known in Japan after the late actor Shintaro Katsu portrayed the character in film. In Kitano’s remake, the director — with hair dyed blond — plays the main character.

Kitano, who became famous as a comedian, said the honor took him by surprise.

“I am very happy to be honored in the field of art,” he said Wednesday, holding his silver trophy modeled after a movie camera.

The special honor, this year named the Open 2003 Mimmo Rotella Foundation Award, is in recognition of overall contributions to the arts and culture.

So far, only three such awards have been given in Venice Film Festival history. In 2002, the award went to Julie Taymor, director of “Frida,” which depicts the turbulent life of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.

Kitano, who won the festival’s Golden Lion award in 1997 for “Hana-bi,” is the first Japanese to win an award at the 60th Venice Film Festival, which opened Aug. 27 and runs through Saturday.