ZATOICHI'S CANE SWORD

(Aka: Zatoichi 15)
(Japanese Title: Zatoichi tekka tabi)

(1967 - Japan)
With Shintaro Katsu, Shiho Fujimura, Yoshihiko Aoyama, Makoto Fujita, Eijiro Tono, Kiyoko Suizenji, Tatsuo Endo
Directed by Kimiyoshi Yasuda

Reviewed by JB
Come On, Do the Duck Dance!

     Not to be confused with ZATOICHI'S FLASHING SWORD.  Seriously, did the people who retitled these films for American audiences have any imagination?

     At least the title has something to do with the movie.  Picking up a theme from ZATOICHI'S VENGEANCE, our beloved masseuse learns something about his sword that forces him to give it up.  What will his life be like without his most trusted "friend"?  As it so happens, life is not all that bad, at least for a while.  But will the usual circumstances beyond his control force Ichi back into his hacking and slashing ways?  Considering that the series went on for eleven more films, you should be leaning toward "yes".

     Because of Plot Point A (no sword), there is not a lot of swordplay until the end, but the film is still lots of fun. It begins with Ichi hitching a ride with a traveling show, and a beautiful young woman singing him a song.  Typical of the increasingly looser ends found in these films, after this initial introduction, neither the maiden nor the traveling show itself features much in the overall plot.  When Ichi reaches town, he meets the usual array of people who are under the thumb of a local crime boss, but this time, Ichi must be careful, as all he has is a bamboo stick as a cane.  Nonetheless, he does pretty well with it, fending off the inevitable attacks from gang members.

     You haven't lived, I mean really lived fully and deeply in this ever-changing world in which we live in, until you've seen Shintaro Katsu perform his intentionally campy duck song, complete with goofy choreography, which rivals Adam West's "Batusi" in silliness.  It occurs in the film's funniest scene, in which Ichi, knowing he has the upper hand on the crime boss, makes a small social gathering uncomfortable for everybody. Entertaining himself more than anybody else, Ichi performs his song and dance (to stunned silence) and follows up by "accidentally" mooning his hostess and spilling sake all over the boss's lap.

     Throw in some gambling scenes (always surefire highlights), an above-average cast, and a nifty little twist concerning Ichi's sword during the requisite mass-slaughter denouement, and you've got yet another winner in this inexhaustibly fun series.  in fact, ZATOICHI'S CANE SWORD is my favorite Ichi film.   - JB

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