In the 1840s, Ichi, blind masseur and quick-draw swordsman, travels to the village of Itakura to pay his respects at the grave of Kichizo, a man he killed two years' ago. The villages in the area, after several years of famine, have struggled to raise 1,000 ryo in taxes they owe. The money is stolen while in transit to the governor. Ichi is accused as is Boss Chuji, a samurai Ichi respects. Ichi sets out to find the money and clear his own and Chuji's names. Along the way, he must face Kichizo's sister, some of Chuji's own gang, a corrupt governor, and his henchmen. Loyalties shift even as Ichi's moral compass stays true. Written by
Ichi buffs will be interested to know that Jushiro is played this film by Katsu's real-life brother, Tomisaburo Wakayama, who would later star in the Lone Wolf and Cub series of films (produced by Katsu). See more »
One of the great things about the Zatoichi movies is that the stories are excellent. Unlike a typical action movie, a Zatoichi movie usually has several significant sub-plots that all manage to intertwine and advance the main story. The Chest of Gold is perhaps one of the most complicated of the Zatoichi movies that I have seen. Zatoichi really bites off a lot in this movie, especially considering that it is much less than two hours long.
Like many Japanese films, Murphy's Law plays a major role. Most of the schemes never work out the way they were planned, and sometimes the unexpected turns are the heart of the story! In this film, Zatoichi is visiting the grave of a young man that he killed by accident. Zatoichi is very remorseful and wishes to pay for a headstone for the youth. While there, Zatoichi comes across the robbery of the local Intendant's Tax Man, who is carrying 1000 Ryo (gold coins). Some students of Chuchi, a former teacher of Zatoichi also try to rob the Chest full of Gold. In the confusion of the swordplay, the gold disappears, and Zatoichi is blamed for the theft along with his teacher, Chuchi.
Because the Tax Money was stolen, the Villagers must pay the large sum again. Zatoichi tries to explain that he did not steal the money and that he wants to help them. The Villagers curse him and beat him unmercifully, drawing blood. Zatoichi could have fought back and killed many thanks to his swordsmanship, but he takes the beating instead of killing unarmed peasants. There his quest begins to find the money and the real thieves.
Because this film has a few twists, I do not want to spoil it. While some of the discoveries are predictable, it is much better to see this film before knowing all the surprises.
Aside from the plot issues, the characterizations are better than ever. Zatoichi's character is given depth and is more realized than in any previous movie. In this film, Zatoichi is hated by the Villagers, the Tax Collectors, the Intendant, the corrupt Headman, and the top Samurai. In one poignant scene, after Zatoichi goes through all manner of incredible hurdles to find the culprits, he is confronted by the highly-respected famous Samurai. The Samurai (Shintaru Katsu's real-life brother)describes a worm in detail, pointing out the many similarities between a worm and Zatoichi. The Samurai's concluding remark is not just cruel, but heart-breaking for Zatoichi.
In spite of all of his efforts, actions, and achievements, Zatoichi is always at the bottom of the Japanese Social Caste. This film in part illustrates the cruelty of social castes. In Japanese society, even the peasants had contempt for Zatoichi.
This film builds up towards a brutal conclusion unlike any previously seen in a Zatoichi film. There is blood and gore, and it is not just the bad guys who are bleeding. Unlike some scenes were the fight between the two masters is a matter of one move, here the action is furious. Every trick is used to kill Zatoichi. The final scenes are tragic, bloody, and ironic. Amid the carnage of human bodies, blood, and death, the villagers celebrate their good fortune and walk away. No one wonders if Zatoichi is still alive, or if he is wounded, or needs help.
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