If this had been done earlier in the Zatoichi series it could have been one of the best. It is good enough, as most of them are, but the plot and the characters seem too complicated for the series at this point. The situation is unusually intriguing: the farmers in the province have two champions, a benevolent boss (for once) and a philosopher-samurai who starts a sort of Grange; both run afoul of the usual local gangsters, who want the crops to fail because it increases their gambling revenues and their chances to snap up some land; their chief or powerful ally is a seeming puritan who is death on drinking and gambling but secretly indulges his own perverse appetites. (He also resembles Dracula, as the villains in the later Zatoichi movies tend increasingly to do.) These characters have enough meaning so that they deserved to be set against Zatoichi as he was drawn originally, but by now he has lost many of his nuances, and the changes in some of the characters, such as the good boss and the angry sister of a man Zatoichi has killed, need more time then the movie has to give, so that the story seems choppy, as if some scenes were missing. Other than that, the movie shows the virtues of most of the others in the series: good acting, sometimes lyrical photography, the creation of a vivid, believable, and uniquely recognizable landscape (the absence of which is obvious in the occasional episode where the director just misses it), and a technical quality that of its nature disguises itself: the imaginatively varied use of limited sets so their limitations seem not to exist. And of course there is the keynote actor, whose presence, as much as his performance, makes it all work. This must be one of the best-sustained series in movie history.
5 of 8 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?