Blind swordsman/masseur Zatoichi is pursued by the retainers of a lord who fear that he will reveal a secret weakness of their master. Returning to the village where a year before he had killed Hirate, a much-admired opponent, Zatoichi encounters another swordsman and former rival in love: his own brother. He must face in combat not only the pursuing retainers but his own flesh-and-blood.Written by
Jim Beaver <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Even though it was only released a few months after the first movie, The Tale of Zatoichi, the second and last movie of the Zatoichi franchise shot in black and white, takes places exactly one year after the events of the first film and is directly related to it. It's nearly impossible to watch this movie independently as it complements the brilliant first strike accurately. Despite an overall faster pace, it has a more melancholy atmosphere due to the main character's goal to pay respects to his fallen friend and opponent and a moody soundtrack.
Zatoichi is on his way to pay respects at the grave of his friend Hirate whom he was forced to kill one year earlier. The movie has three different plots leading into one. First of all, Zatoichi is hired to massage a powerful lord but when he realizes that the nobleman is insane, he is tracked down by the lord's retainers and hired samurai who want to prevent Zatoichi from telling other people the truth about the lord's mental condition. Secondly, the movie follows a one-armed swordsman and his associate who claim to be samurai but are actually criminals on the run. Thirdly, the movie gives us some more details about the yakuza Zatoichi teamed up with in the first film who felt insulted by him and decide to track him down when they hear he is coming back to town. The movie has a twist that links the three story lines together and ends in a rather abrupt way but still manages to answer all essential questions in just seventy-two minutes.
If compared to the first film, this one has a much faster pace and features more spectacular sword fights. Zatoichi regularly faces big crowds on beaches and in gardens and shows off his precise skills in breathtaking manner. From that point of view, the vivid sequel is more spectacular than the first film. The characters have as much depth as in the first film as Zatoichi still proves he has a strong moral compass while he meets ruthless criminals, charming prostitutes and people somewhere in between on his way to his friend's and opponent's grave. The element that is less convincing than in the first film is the more fast-paced and at times slightly confusing story that feels rushed in just seventy-two minutes and doesn't develop as much depth as it could have requested.
If you are looking for breathtaking martial arts choreography, you might prefer this movie over the first film. If you are looking for a skilled plot with atmosphere and depth, the first movie is clearly superior. I personally prefer the more intellectual first film but must admit that the second one is definitely energizing and entertaining. It's positive that the sequel didn't just try to copy the style of the first film and tried out something different. Overall, it's a quite good movie that justifies the numerous sequels based upon the first Zatoichi film and that should please to any fan of Japanese culture and martial arts cinema.
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