ZATOICHI AT LARGE

(Aka:  Zatoichi 23)
(Japanese Title: Zatôichi goyô-tabi)

(1972 - Japan)
With Shintaro Katsu, Rentaro Mikuni, Hisaya Morishige, Etsushi Takahashi, Naoko Otani
Directed by Kazuo Mori

Reviewed by JB

     After a trio of "very special guest star" films, the Zatoichi series returns to safer ground with a film that, like so many others, is a grab bag of previously used plot elements, tossed up in the air and sliced into something that feels familiar yet manages to be different.  There's a baby, a little boy (who can't act), a samurai who lives for the day he can duel with the great Ichi, and a yakuza boss forcing a town's womenfolk into prostitution.  ZATOICHI AT LARGE even brings back Rentaro Mikuni, excellent as the good boss turned bad in ZATOICHI THE OUTLAW, to play the film's villain, a part in which he is once again top-notch.  But wait, there's more, such as Ichi embarrassing some goons by cutting their robes off, Ichi getting captured and beaten, Ichi "nursing" a baby and a semi-repeat of the fiery battle in FESTIVAL OF FIRE.

     This is not to say that ZATOICHI AT LARGE is not simply warmed-over stew.  It entertains, it is smartly directed by veteran director Kazuo Mori (who helmed two previous Ichi films) and it hits all the right marks at the right times.  It's not a remake of any particular entry but rather more of a greatest hits collection.  There are even fresh moments, such as Ichi donning a dragon's head just for giggles during the requisite mass-slaughter ending.  At the same time, it's not the most impressive Ichi film either.  Viewed in order, ZATOICHI AT LARGE will seem at times like you've seen it all before.  Viewed at random, it is a fun film which would be perfectly adequate at introducing a novice to the delights of Shintaro Katsu and his folk-hero alter ego.  Either way, you will have a good time, if you can get past the uncomfortable opening where Ichi delivers a baby.  (And no, before you ask, he doesn't chop the umbilical cord with his sword.) ½ - JB

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