Older, wiser but still a wandering loner, the blind, peace-loving masseur Ichi seeks a peaceful life in a rural village. When he's caught in the middle of a power struggle between two rival...
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Zatoichi tries to unrest the mob rule over a small village all while the gang leader's bodyguard is actually the Yojimbo, secretly taking the gang down from the inside. Will the two heroes realize in time that they are on the same side?
After an artist is threatened by the yakuza into creating valuable but highly illegal pornography, the law aims to execute him. Zatoichi, having been honor bound to protect the man and his family, must now run against the law.
Older, wiser but still a wandering loner, the blind, peace-loving masseur Ichi seeks a peaceful life in a rural village. When he's caught in the middle of a power struggle between two rival Yakuza clans, his reputation as a deadly defender of the innocent is put to the ultimate test in a series of sword-slashing showdowns.Written by
For better or worse, Shintaro Katsu's career was defined by his portrayal of Zatoichi, the wandering masseur and blind swordsman of the yakuza. I think it's definitely for the better, because Zatoichi is and will be remembered as one of the most enduring characters in international cinema history.
The Zatoichi series began in the early 1960's and was a popular television saga in Japan. The movie releases extended the series' appeal, and enhanced the fame of Katsu and his Zatoichi character by bringing them both to an international audience.
While casual viewers or dilettante observers of the Zatoichi saga might discount the movies due to their ultra-violent content or seeming appeal to male-only audiences, such opinions would surely lack credibility.
The Zatoichi stories are carefully-written morality plays in the context of feudal Japan and its world of starving peasants and oppressed citizenry, corrupt government lords, gangsters and itinerant samurai. Amid this squalor, there are also bountiful instances throughout the series that illustrate and celebrate the inimitable beauty and uniqueness of Japan; its music, art, wardrobe, family life, social decorum, food, drink, natural resources and environment, architecture, etc.
As a human being, and because of the underlying universality of the storytelling, it is only natural to be able to connect on both a visceral and intellectual level with the people in these tales and their struggles, even if the swordsmanship and particular traditions of ancient Japan depicted are experientially unknown to you.
This movie, better known as "Darkness is His Ally," also as "Zatoichi 26," was the final installment of the Zatoichi saga. Directed by Katsu, it is impressively detailed in every respect -- scripting, shot selection, editing, pace, music, production design, set design and more.
Despite the domination of male-oriented scenes, in this movie as well as the entire Zatoichi series, women are regarded with high esteem, even reverence; not only for their beauty but also because of their wisdom. One very tender sequence in this movie between Zatoichi and young Oume, played by Miho Nakayama, echoes this series-wide attribution of bodhisattva- or goddess-like status to women.
Another unforgettable sequence in this movie is the time-arresting, unspeakable beauty of vocalist Kazuko Matsumura's performance of a somber, traditional Japanese song called the "Jongara Bushi." It's a duet she sings in a bar/restaurant/hotel with a shamisen accompaniment. Her folk singing style, gliding through microtones rather than using vibrato, still sends chills up my spine. For me it is one of the most memorable live vocal performances in a movie ever.
Shintaro Katsu was well known as a Kabuki actor and musician prior to taking the role of Zatoichi. He was also a writer, producer and director. His artistic conflict with Akira Kurosawa on the maestro's film "Kagemusha" is well documented, as were his brushes with the law for marijuana use (a major taboo in Japan to this day). His was a restless artistic spirit, and one can imagine that the singular strength of the Zatoichi character perhaps handcuffed his creative diversity and aged him prematurely. He passed away in 1997 at only 65 years old.
Even if Katsu felt his creative palette was unfulfilled, the world will still be forever appreciative and enriched for what he gave us: One of the most enduring cinematic characters of all time -- Zatoichi.
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