Blind swordsman/masseuse Zatoichi befriends a young woman looking for her father, a village leader who has disappeared. As he helps her investigate the disappearance, Zatoichi also becomes involved with another young woman who is trying to help her brother, who has murdered someone at about the same time and place as the missing man was last seen.Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
Intriguing characters, interesting background information and solid direction make up for predictable and repetitive story patterns
Adventures of Zatoichi is the ninth film of the franchise based upon the blind masseur. Zatoichi wants to celebrate New Year's Eve peacefully in a town next to a mountain where a lot of artists, businessmen and comedians have gathered. However, they are soon informed that the local intendant plans on asking forty percent of their profits. This isn't the only bad news as Zatoichi must share his room with two beautiful but desperate women. One is looking for her father who mysteriously disappeared about a month ago. The other one secretly meets her brother who was tricked into committing a crime for the local intendant, just to be captured and sent into exile and who managed to escape to have his revenge. Zatoichi wants to help the two women and put an end to the local intendant's abusive reign of terror.
One element I liked about the movie was the intriguing cast of characters. The two resilient and strong women aren't as flat and stereotyped as in other films of the franchise and one actually cares about their fates. Two other interesting characters are two gymnast boys who occasionally help Zatoichi and the two women and are a welcome change if compared to the kids that usually just make fun of the blind swordsman in the other movies. Zatoichi also has to face two quite intriguing swordsmen hired by the local intendant. One of them is frustrated by his low salary and decides to avoid fighting Zatoichi. The other one is a disillusioned man from a poor family who only wants to fight Zatoichi because he sees a valuable opponent in him. Another intriguing character is an old drunkard who reminds Zatoichi of his own father.
This leads to another strong element of the story. This film gives us some more background information about Zatoichi. It tells us how he got separated from his father when he was just five years old and how he desires to meet him again. The movie exposes Zatoichi's desire to have a normal life with a normal family as he grows tired of his life as a criminal and drifter. The film adds some depth to an already intriguing protagonist.
Another element to appreciate is the movie's atmosphere. The diversified locations include traditional Japanese inns, shady bars and dark guard stations. The numerous colorful artists, businessmen and comedians are also interesting to watch. The movie is filmed with much precision and beautiful backdrops. Especially the final scenes with sword fights in the snow and a rising sun above a mountain are particularly beautiful. The film finds the right balance between gloomy backdrops and beautiful settings.
However, the film also has a few minor flaws. The story is nicely developed and unfolds smoothly but it's hardly surprising and lacking fresh elements. Most twists are quite predictable and only the side story between the blind masseur and the local drunkard tries to add something new to the franchise. Another problem is that the sword fights aren't particularly interesting. They are often brief and repetitive and especially the final showdown is slightly underwhelming.
In the end, Adventures of Zatoichi is a good average entry in the franchise as it neither stands out negatively or positively. Those who are familiar with the franchise will like this film for sure. Those who aren't familiar with it yet shouldn't start here and either watch the very first film or the contemporary remake with Kitano Takeshi.
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