ZATOICHI'S REVENGE

(Japanese Title: Zatôichi nidan-kiri)
(1965 - Japan)
With Shintaro Katsu, Norihei Miki, Mikiko Tsubouchi
Directed by Akira Inoue
Reviewed by JB

A Fistful of Ichi       An above-average entry in the Ichi series, ZATOICHI'S REVENGE has Ichi returning to a town to see an old teacher (another blind masseuse) only to discover the man murdered and his daughter in deep trouble.  Ichi then uncovers a scheme where the local brothel-owning boss forces fathers into debt and takes their daughters into his stable of whores as collateral.  The boss and his inevitable partner in crime, the corrupt official, are both indistinguishable from previous incarnations of these stock characters, but their evil scheme, plus their habit of beating their whores on a regular basis, make this a darker than usual Zatoichi tale.

     For the past few films, there has been a concerted effort to pair Ichi with children - the baby in FIGHT, ZATOICHI, FIGHT, the two little boys in ADVENTURES OF ZATOICHI.  Here, Ichi befriends a pre-teen girl and her loving father, a shifty dice-dealer.  Both characters are played with a bit more depth than usual, making them memorable companions for Master Ichi.  The dice-dealer even pulls off a fun Zatoichi imitation during the film's climax, the second film in a row in which a character pretends to be Ichi.  As in FIGHT, ZATOICHI, FIGHT, there is a real sense of loss when Zatoichi inevitably leaves his new friends behind and continues his endless journey down the road. 

     Director Akira Inoue, helming his first Ichi film, displays a creative eye that helps raise this film a notch above the usual entry.  He uses the architecture of the film's sets to frame his characters in interesting ways, and at times goes with a handheld camera to bring a sense of chaos to the proceedings.  His flashbacks, recalling the murder of Ichi's former teacher, are rendered in harsh, overexposed black and white.  In addition, Inoue seems influenced by Sergio Leone's FOR A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, released in 1964, using Leone-esque extreme closeups in a way not seen previously in Ichi films.  Along with the rhythmic acoustic guitar music on the soundtrack, this makes ZATOICHI'S REVENGE the most "western" film of the series so far.  Since FOR A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS was itself "influenced" by Akira Kurosawa's YOJIMBO, it is interesting to see Leone's film in turn influencing Japanese cinema right back.

     As for the film's title, many Ichi film titles are meaningless, but in this case, legend has it that if you indulge in the the rice balls and sake at certain disreputable Japanese restaurants... - JB

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