Wicked Priest (1968) - Zatoichi's "relative" in more ways than one
Actor Tomisaboro Wakayama is the older brother of Shintaro Katsu whose fame rests on the character of Zatoichi, the blind swordsman. Clearly an attempt to replicate the success of the Zatoichi films by casting Wakayama in the role of a similar lovable rouge with a strong moral code.
Shinkai is a Buddhist priest who loves gambling and plenty of women. He also can put up a really good fight. This of course puts him at odds with the other monks at the monastery. Punished for a fight started by another priest, Shinkai is sentenced to isolation. At some point he just leaves to play dice in the city. He encounters an attempted rape and kidnapping by a bunch of young hooligans and is launched into a quest to break up a prostitution ring run by the same thugs who run the gambling house he goes to. The rest of the film is about Shinkai's quest, his attempts to set the young hooligans on a righteous path and the attempts by his fellow monks to disgrace Shinkai and the temple's head priest who is very tolerant of Shinkai's behavior. Fights and melodrama ensue in ample portions.
First off, with his shaved head Wakayama looks almost exactly like his brother. The whole tone of the film is very Zatoichi and at times you could be confused that you are actually watching a Zatoichi film. In fact at one point the film makers make a joke about the resemblance! That said, what are the differences? The setting is turn of the 20th century so there are guns but almost everything else is very traditional. Shinkai practices some sort of Jiu Jitsu so he doesn't use a sword. Shinkai tries to use Buddhism to justify his excesses. Oh yes, Shinkai isn't blind. In other words, not much of a difference. On a side note, Shinkai's fellow priests are some of the sleaziest monks I've seen.
As a film it is very watchable and the action sequences are excellent. The melodrama works and Wakayama brings in a great comic performance. You should have a good time although you might want to chant, "This is not Zatoichi, this is not Zatoichi."
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