ZATOICHI'S VENGEANCE

(Aka: Zatoichi 13)
(Japanese Title: Zatoichi no uta ga kikoeru)

(1966 - Japan)
With Shintaro Katsu, Shigeru Amachi, Mayumi Ogawa
Directed by Tokuzo Tanaka

Reviewed by JB

     Not to be confused with ZATOICHI'S REVENGE

     The original Zatoichi film series consists of 25 movies released from 1962 to 1973 and one comeback film in 1989.  Thus,  ZATOICHI'S VENGEANCE, the 13th film, begins the second half of Ichi's movie life.  Consider this: by the 13th official James Bond film, OCTOPUSSY, the producers were just about ready to put Roger Moore, the third 007, out to pasture.  By the 26th James Bond film, we may even be well past the Daniel Craig era and into our seventh or eighth James Bond.  Yet Katsu's reign as Master Ichi the Blind Swordsman (and Expert Masseuse) would last 13 more films.  Remarkable.

     Naturally, none of this kind of stuff was even being pondered when ZATOICHI'S VENGEANCE was released in 1966.  It was just another Ichi movie, and today, it is still that.  Like several Ichi films before it, the 13th film is scraped together using plot elements and characters from previous films - the dying traveler who entrusts Ichi to deliver something somewhere, the jaded whore who nonetheless has a good heart, the child whom Ichi befriends, and, of course, the inevitable yakuza boss who is ruining a town with his evil ways.  ZATOICHI'S VENGEANCE even brings back actor Shigeru Amachi, so memorable as an expert samurai in the first Ichi film, to play a similar character here, bringing to the role a combination of Toshiro Mifune's looks and Tatsuya Nakadai's elegant voice.

     There are a handful of new elements, but they never quite come together.  Ichi meets a blind priest who is actually wiser and even more philosophical than our favorite blind masseuse, and they have quiet conversations about the path Ichi has chosen in life.  Can he rationalize befriending children everywhere even as he displays a lifestyle most mothers would never wish on their young ones?  If he merely got rid of his sword, would he be able to stop killing?  The bad guys even come up with the Ichi equivalent of Kryptonite in the form of traditional "thunder drums" played during festivals.  If they take away Ichi's hearing, his most sharpened sense, is he beatable?

     Unfortunately, the film never answers these questions.  The drum business rings false, as we have seen Ichi playing these drums himself in at least one previous film with no ill effects on his hearing, and when the drums are employed in this film, Ichi is inexplicably unaffected, even though earlier in the film he remarked himself how much the drums bother him.  Whatever moral dilemmas Ichi deals with in this film are resolved the usual way - by hacking up thirty or forty bad guys and then heading down the road once again.   This is one film where I wished Ichi would have stayed for a few moments more, at least to explain to the young boy why the Ichi lifestyle is not one to emulate.

     ZATOICHI'S REVENGE is good enough to qualify as an average Ichi film.  As a fan, I expect this now - a splendid film followed by a few average ones,  Halfway through my journey with Master Ichi (Saturdays have become Zato-days for me), I have enjoyed every film but one (TALE OF ZATOICHI CONTINUES) and am looking forward to the second half of Ichi's cinematic journey.  ½ - JB

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