The Adventures of Zatoichi
And we continue with the samurai. The Criterion Collection loves itself some samurai action. The Adventures of Zatoichi is one of the long line of Zatoichi adventures. For those who don't know Zatoichi is blind, a masseur, a master swordsman, and a master gambler. Takeshi Kitano admitted after making a remake in 2003 that the character is pretty ridiculous if you think about it. But he's the awesome kind ridiculous. The kind that makes for a very entertaining afternoon.
As played by Shintaro Katsu, Zatoichi is a unique action hero. He is kind, gentle, and has all the aggression of Winnie the Pooh. I can compare him to another, though more obscure cartoon character, Eek the Cat. Eek's motto is "it never hurts to help." And he's frequently proven wrong. That's pretty much how Zatoichi views the world. Throughout this long running series Zatocihi is always available to help whomever needs it. This usually ends in bloodshed. In this outing Zatoichi agrees to take a message to a young woman named Sen who works at an inn. There he meets another young woman Saki who is looking for her missing father. Zatoichi bonds with Saki because he also lost his father. In most interesting development Zatoichi meets the old town drunk who's story is very similar to that of his father's. This causes him to trust the old man with a important task. But that choice ends in tears.
What fans really come to these movies for is action and here the fights are mostly reserved for the action packed finale. It's eventually revealed that Saki's father was killed by a local Yakuza chief and a corrupt official. The villains kidnap Saki and hold her in the local guard station. That leads to an amazing fight as Zaotichi cuts his way inside and dispatches the bad guys.
There are plenty of other cool scenes as well such as when Zatoichi uncovers some loaded dice with a very fast sword cut. My favorite scene is when Zatoichi tells a gang of thugs to clear out... and for once the thugs take the good advice and run for it.
I'd seen this movie before on IFC back when they aired Zatoichi and Sonny Chiba movies every Saturday morning. Samurai films are very close in spirit to the Shaw Brothers Kung Fu flicks I grew up with. I wish those films would get some more love. Admittedly the acting, production values, and especially the cinematography are miles better than those early Hong Kong films. In this film there are some amazing shots. The final shot is gorgeous. Zatoichi, having just slaughtered his enemies, prays as the dawn breaks. The light slowly changes. It's the new year and he prays for a new beginning. Not to many action films contain such beautiful shots.