Master Ichi is back,
and more self-loathing than ever!
The third entry of the series, and the first one filmed in color, features a nuanced and powerful performance by Shintaro Katsu as Zatoichi the Blind Masseuse. In this film, Ichi returns to his old stomping grounds and revisits the master who taught him how to use a sword four years before. Unfortunately, he finds the town infested with thieves and murderers, including some who are holding major grudges against the masseuse for his actions of the first two films, so it isn't long before Ichi-san is once again doling out life lessons using the tip of his sword as his own personal Power Point program. (One life lesson: When Master Ichi gives you a massage, don't stiff him on the fee!)
Like Zatoichi wanders in search of food and shelter, the film wanders in search of a plot. The first half of the film, although filled with pleasant and even exciting vignettes, is unfocused. Bad guys keep popping up, each seemingly wanting to be the film's major villain, but it is not until Ichi receives a surprise proposal from his former teacher's sister that the film finally coalesces into something really special. Katsu's portrayal of a humbled and emotional Ichi who has pledged his heart and soul to a woman is completely believable and heartbreaking. Although Ichi promises to become an "honest man" (no more gambling, whoring and killing), circumstances beyond his control force his hand, leaving the countryside littered with bodies. As one would expect, true happiness is not in the dice for Master Ichi. Nor for nine out of every ten people who cross his path.
If you enjoy the character of Zatoichi and the superb actor who plays him, the flaws of this film will go down easily and the highlights (the second half) will be what you remember. ½ - JB