ZATOICHI'S CONSPIRACY

(Aka:  Zatoichi 25; The Blood Festival of Kasama)
(Japanese Title: Shin Zatôichi monogatari: Kasama no chimatsuri)

(1973 - Japan)
With Shintaro Katsu, Yukiyo Toake, Eiji Okada, Takashi Shimura, Tatsuo Endo, Rei Yokoyama
Directed by Yasuda Kimiyoshi

Reviewed by JB

     The last proper Ichi film in the series before it moved to television, ZATOICHI'S CONSPIRACY is also one of the most poignant, as Ichi returns to his home town, visits the grave of the woman who raised him, and meets his "sister" Oyimo.  He also discovers that his childhood friend Shinbei has become a successful but crooked merchant who is in league with (wait for it) a corrupt tax official and (wait for it) the local crime boss.  The first half of the film hearkens back to TALE OF ZATOICHI, with its emphasis not on violence but on character development and plot detail. 

     The film is greatly aided not only by the charming women of the cast - Yukiyo Toake as Oyimo and Rei Yokoyama as Yuri the town tramp - but also by two superior character actors who have played with Katsu before.  Tatsuo Endo is back again, amusing as always as a sniveling, cowardly crime boss who has to deal with this pesky blind masseuse who is messing up all his plans.  Takashi Shimura also returns for his second go-round in an Ichi film, playing an almost identical part as he did in ZATOICHI AND THE FUGITIVES, that of a kindly older man who befriends Ichi.

     The ending is marred somewhat by a few clearly impossible feats by Ichi, but is still memorable for its setting and its violence.  While Ichi slaughters the local gang inside of a storage shed filled with bags of rice the violence, rice rains all over everybody like a Kurosawa summer storm.  Ichi is particularly ruthless this time around, with moves that include slicing off an arm and cutting a carotid artery. 

     There have been better Ichi movies and worse ones.  The 25th and final Ichi film (until the surprise comeback of 1989) merely serves to show how consistent the series was overall.  Far from coming off as the series' definitive final statement, ZATOICHI'S CONSPIRACY feels like it could have been released at any time from 1963 through 1973. 3½ - JB 

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