ZATOICHI: ON THE ROAD

(Japanese Title: Zatoichi kyojo tabi)
(1963 - Japan)
With Shintaro Katsu
Directed by Tokuzo Tanaka
Reviewed by JB

"How do you get to Sashimi Street?"     Poor Master Ichi, condemned to literally live out the chorus to Bob Dylan's most famous rocker: without a home, on his own, like a rolling stone.  In this entry of the series, he stumbles across a dying man on the road, and accepts his request to protect his daughter Mitsu.  Ichi, being a man with a huge heart, falls for this young gamin, only to have her used as a pawn between (what else) warring yakuza gangs.  And, of course, in the end, he must leave her as he continues on down the road.  There is no room for a Paulette Goddard in this Chaplinesque figure's endless travels.

     On its own, ON THE ROAD is a fine movie, but this fifth entry into the series in less than two years shows signs of early stagnation.  Although Shintaro Katsu is outstanding as the blind masseuse, there is a creeping feeling that we've seen it all before.  Scenes in this one recall scenes in earlier films - Ichi fishing, hanging out in a gambling joint, slicing a thrown piece of fruit in half with his sword.  There is little new in ON THE ROAD, and perhaps to compensate, the sword fights and battles get larger and more intense.  Not only does Ichi make minced meat (or the Japanese equivalent) out of two separate gangs, but fells three yakuza bosses in the space of three seconds.

     Still fun, ZATOICHI: ON THE ROAD is an early warning sign that the series may not be able to grow.  Then again, it is likely that Japanese audiences were not looking for growth.  Like James Bond fans, perhaps Zatoichi fans were completely satisfied at just watching Master Ichi go through his familiar paces film after film.  Who am I to argue? - JB

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