ZATOICHI AND THE FUGITIVES

(Aka: Zatoichi 18)
(Japanese Title: Zatôichi hatashi-jô)

(1968 - Japan)
With Shintaro Katsu, Takashi Shimura, Kayo Mikimoto, Kyosuke Mashida
Directed by Kimiyoshi Asuda

Reviewed by JB

Shimura, Katsu     Not to be confused with ZATOICHI THE FUGITIVE.

     In 1968, Japanese audiences were greeted by a violent, dark Zatoichi film.  With the exception of one or two typically fun but improbable sword tricks, there are no laughs in ZATOICHI AND THE FUGITIVES, but there is plenty of blood. 

     The story is typical - Ichi is accosted on the road, knocks off two goons, and when he arrives in the next town, he discovers the rest of the goons waiting there for revenge.  Some of the goons are fugitives outlaws who are the nastiest bunch of yakuza lowlifes Ichi has yet faced.  When hired to knock off a local merchant, they opt to kill everybody in his house too.  Moments later, one of them hacks up a strolling husband and wife just for fun, smears some blood on their baby's face and almost plunges his sword through the crying little tot before he is called away by his leader.  Pumping an old doctor for Ichi's whereabouts, they beat him mercilessly and attempt to gang-rape his daughter.  Ichi himself is shot and almost drowned, and in his final showdown with those who wronged him, he looks like a bloodied Ichi-zombie who just crawled out of his own grave.  "The Lord of Hell is waiting for you," he says ominously before beginning his mass assault on the gang, using such violent tactics as plunging his sword through one gangster's throat and and slicing off another one's arm.  "Oh, yes, there will be blood" could have been this film's tagline.

     Famed character actor Takashi Shimura makes the first of two appearances in a Zatoichi film, playing the old doctor, a kindly man dedicated to healing, who takes Ichi into his home.  Shimura, star of Akira Kurosawa's IKIRU and SEVEN SAMURAI, makes something memorable out of this simple part, and thankfully, he has a generous amount of footage and plenty of scenes with Shintaro Katsu.  Shimura would return in the last Ichi film proper, ZATOICHI'S CONSPIRACY. Coincidentally, Katsu would star with Shimura's SEVEN SAMURAI costar Toshiro Mifune only two films later in ZATOICHI MEETS YOJIMBO and with another famous Kurosawa player, Tatsuya Nakadai, in the film after that, THE FESTIVAL OF FIRE.

     ZATOICHI AND THE FUGITIVES combines elements of previous Ichi films, spaghetti westerns and Kurosawa's YOJIMBO  into an excellent, edgier than usual, thriller. - JB 

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