(Japanese Title: Zatôichi senryô-kubi)
(1964 - Japan)
With Shintaro Katsu, Shogo Shimada, Mikiko Tsubouchi, Machiko Hasegawa, Tomisaburo Wakayama
Directed by Kazuo Ikehiro
Reviewed by JB

    When I first saw the stylized opening credit sequence of ZATOICHI AND THE CHEST OF GOLD, with the title character battling massive amounts of bad guys against a black background, my immediate thought was "Okay, so now he's James Bond".  Little did I know that some fans consider this film the one where the series "took off", essentially becoming the James Bond series of the East.  It is certainly a leap forward from ZATOICHI ON THE ROAD, which was almost a compendium of Zatoichi "drinking game" from previous movies.  Not that the formula changed much for THE CHEST OF GOLD, but things are different. 

     For starters, it is directed with much more enthusiasm than usual, with the kind of quick zooms and swish-pans that would soon become hallmark (some would say bane) of the samurai and martial arts genre in the coming years.  Blood is finally prominent in an Ichi film, with one opening flashback showing a gushing spurt not unlike the one found near the end of Kurosawa's SANJURO, filmed two years earlier.  Ichi is also bloodied up several times in the film, showing that he is not a super hero but a man who can get hurt.  The climactic battle this time is not simply a matter of Master Ichi flashing his sword and watching bad guys fall (though he does plenty of that also) but rather an exciting sequence in which he is dragged on the ground, swordless, by an evil thug on a horse (played by Katsu's real life look-alike brother brother, Tomisaburo Wakayama), a sequence which features, for the first time that I've noticed, a stunt-Ichi

    Then there is the sex. I know what you are saying: "Zatoichi having sex?  Not really needing to see that!".  But don't worry - he doesn't do "The Full Ichi" here.  But Ichi does get his private parts manhandled by a local whore (and a fat and ugly one at that), and it is implied later that the manhandling eventually lead to  complete digital satisfaction for our wandering masseuse.  ("That's the first time I ever been on the receiving end of a massage!" quips Ichi.)  Ever the gentleman, Ichi grumbles about paying for the service and finishes up the encounter with these tender words: "You should really take a bath now and then."  And people wonder why he's always wandering down the road alone at the end of every film.

     Okay, so things aren't all that different, but there are some novelties, and all the usual expected moments are done with style, making ZATOICHI AND THE CHEST OF GOLD one of the best of the series so far. - JB

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