Sweet, often interesting and potently exiting entry in the long running chanbara series
I revisited this one last night, after not thinking over much of it on a first viewing some years ago. Unlike some of the more exploitative of openly deranged and violent old school swordplay outings, the Zatoichi films were it seems, pretty serious minded and fairly mild when it came to grue or craziness. This one has a tiny bit of blood splatter but its basically pretty dry. I'm more naturally suited to watching films like the Lone Wolf and Cub movies or Shintaro Katsu's own Hanzo movies, but I found myself having a good time with this film. Its definitely a mood thing but also I think that the Zatoichi films have a cumulative effect, in that the more you watch the more you come to know his character and appreciate the style of film, so each movie builds upon the last. This film sees Zatoichi arouse the jealousy of a mysterious wandering samurai and the wrath of a blind Yakuza boss, in a tale that seem almost languid in the first hour or so, before gearing up for a cracking conclusion. Of course, when I say languid I don't mean boring, the film has a variety of fun characters and a vibrant, kooky sense of humanity to it that is always oddly compelling, as well as splashes of swift and sweet swordplay as Zatoichi dispatches all comers. There are also a few moments of wacky humour like Zatoichi landing buckets on attackers heads during a pitched naked swordfight in a bath house and some eye opening moments, like Zatoichi's encounters, and near very close encounter with a gay (I assume) pimp. This last is played by the cult performer Peter in an early role. He later became a bit more known to trash fans for playing the titular role in Guinea Pig 6: Devil Woman Doctor. Also of note cast wise are veteran actor Tatsuya Nakadai, who appeared in the likes of Ran and Kagemusha, grimly determined and righteously ticked off as the jealous samurai, beautiful Reiko Ohara as a bit of a love interest for our mighty blind swordsman, and Masayuki Mori as the seemingly wise, ultimately sinister blind boss, who really comes into strikingly malign form in the finale. The last 20 minutes or so are tight and thrilling, as the earlier sense of fun and near frivolity switches into mean intensity, climaxing with a couple of fine and memorable fights and a bit of trademark bleak philosophising from Zatoichi. Everything knits together well and the film acquires a real good punch. Though I think I'll have to come back to this film after seeing more of the series down the line to appreciate it more, I can still see it as a fine film with a lot going for it for fans of this kind of cinema. I'd say its probably the second best, or maybe even the joint best of the ones I've seen thus far, parring with or slightly lesser to Zatoichi The Outlaw. So, Zatoichi fans will undoubtedly dig this one and newcomers will probably find it a good entry into the series. Those looking for faster and grislier things will likely be put off, as I initially was, but its rewarding stuff and something that definitely repays repeat viewings. Ultimately, if it looks like your sort of thing and you've read to the end of this review without being put off, why not check it out? You could do far worse, and you might really dig it.
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