FIGHT, ZATOICHI, FIGHT

(Japanese Title: Zatôichi kesshô-tabi)
(1964 - Japan)
With Shintaro Katsu, Hizuro Takachiho
Directed by Kenji Misumi
Reviewed by JB

Change diaper, Zatoichi, change diaper!    Feeling responsible for a mother's death, Zatoichi journeys to reunite her baby with its father.  Needless to say, there are yakuza gang members on his trail trying to kill him, kid or no kid.  At this point, I seriously doubt they even remember why they want to kill him any more except that it is expected of them.  It leads to fun scenes scenes where Ichi kills off six or seven in a row while changing diapers.

     Shintaro Katsu is as thoroughly convincing in his love for the child as he is in every other situation he and his screenwriters invent for the character.  He remains a subtle actor whose every movement seems to emanate from his character, making nearly every Ichi film so far worth sitting through. (But I could do without the "pee" gags and the scene of Ichi nursing the little tot.)  

     Of course, this is an Ichi adventure, so there are fights, many fights, as Master Ichi tangles with sumo wrestlers and hired killers, at one point having to do battle with an entire gang while his clothes are on fire. But the yakuza goons in this film are relegated to secondary status, popping up every now and then to be slaughtered by Ichi, who shushes them after they scream their screams of death - we wouldn't want to wake up the baby now, would we?  The emphasis is always on Ichi the man, the proud godfather, and his journey.

     As usual, there is a woman, only this time she's not the usual icky little Ichi-worshiper but a feisty pickpocket who joins up with Ichi to steal his moneybag but winds up learning to love Ichi and the little boy. Played by Hizuro Takachiho, she's the best Ichi-sidekick yet.  With the nanny posing as Ichi's wife, the film gives us a glimpse of the happiness Ichi could have as a family man had he not condemned himself to a life of eternal wandering atonement.  As good as the domestic scenes are, they are tinged with sadness, as we know that by the end of the film, Ichi will be on the road again, alone, no wife, no baby, only a makeshift toy in his ragged pocket, just another memento of a few fleeting moments of bliss he once had.

    Directed by Kenji Misumi, who helmed the first Zatoichi film, FIGHT, ZATOICHI, FIGHT is beautifully shot, with Misumi taking advantage not only of the widescreen format but also the gorgeous natural scenery of Japan.  Although this film is the seventh in two years, with an eighth to follow before 1964 was over, FIGHT, ZATOICHI, FIGHT never feels like it is rushed or filmed on the cheap.  It is a finely polished film that can be enjoyed on its own or as part of the series. - JB

 Zatoichi: Blind Swordsman     The Stuff You Gotta Watch

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