ZATOICHI: THE FUGITIVE

(Japanese Title: Zatoichi kyojo tabi)
(1963 - Japan)
With Shintaro Katsu, Miwa Takada, Masayo Banri, Junichiro Narita
Directed by Tokuzo Tanaka
Reviewed by JB

This is the way we wash our clothes, kill some guys, wash our clothes...     Master Ichi, everybody's favorite "god of calamity", enters a town, discovers there is a price on his head, and does exactly what you expect him to do - hang around and piss off his potential assassins on an almost 24/7 basis.

     After viewing this third sequel to TALE OF ZATOICHI, two things seem obvious.  Firstly, a formula had been worked out, one that would provide enough simple stories for as many sequels as the Japanese public demanded.  Master Ichi would enter a town, usually find some warring factions, take one side in the fight, fall in love with a woman, wipe out entire yakuza (Japanese underworld) armies, and then ease on down the road to the next town.

    Secondly, and more importantly, the fun of Zatoichi movies would not be in the stories, but in the amazing combination of Zatoichi the character and Shintaro Katsu the actor.  The films do not need (and do not have, so far) endless action sequences to generate interest.  Some of the best moments in Zatoichi films feature Master Ichi walking into a room and proceeding to humbly and gently humiliate everybody in it without shedding a drop of blood.  Watching Shintaro work his simple magic in these scenes is a joy.  The chuckles, the bows, the flickering of his eyes, and, of course, the swift maneuver of his sword as another candle or bottle of sake is bi-sected.  Even after four films, Shintaro is still creating and refining the character.  The ending has Master Ichi leaving town after slaughtering an entire gang, and nursing his broken heart over a slain woman.  As he heads down the road, he passes a small band of musicians, and begins to dance lightheartedly to amuse the kind people who have bid him goodbye.  Moments later, once he is sure is out of sight, his face changes from happiness to pure despair and darkness.  It is an amazing moment that shows what a fine actor Katsu truly was.  - JB

Zatoichi: Blind Swordsman     The Stuff You Gotta Watch


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"Wherever I go, I am the god of calamity."

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