It's not rated. Also, lots of folks get murdered by sword. So, "Not Rated for Sword Murder" is what I'm going to have to stick with.
DIRECTOR: Kazuo Ikehiro
Do you know how hard it is going to be to individually review Zatoichi movies? I already mentioned this in my Lone Wolf and Cub thing, but there's a billion Zatoichi movies...and they're all the same movie pretty much. I bought the box set a million years ago. I got through a couple of them, really enjoyed them, but then found myself full on Zatoichi. This means that I only have a billion more movies to go. I sat down the other night when my wife went to her girls' group and popped in a Zatoichi movie. Ten minutes in, I realized I had seen this one. Popped on the next one. I've seen that one two. Twenty minutes later, I found the next one in the series that I hadn't seen. Hence, my review for Zatoichi's Flashing Sword. I don't even know what I'm going to do about this one.
Since this is my first official Zatoichi review on this page, I guess I better give you the premise. Zatoichi is a blind swordsman and masseuse (apparently a thing) who traveled around Japan fighting gangsters and yakuza because they try to cheat him. Every movie reminds you that people think that they can kill a blind guy and then he goes all Daredevil-before-Daredevil on them with a sword. They die screaming horrible and he taps his way to the new town. I heard Quentin Tarantino make reference to these movies. Then Criterion released them. Then Barnes and Noble had a sale on the box set. Then I had a stack of coupons that all worked. Here I am today with a billion unwatched Zatoichi movies. The weird part is that I really enjoy them, but I have to be critical of their release schedule. Look up the Wikipedia release dates for these movies. (Here's a link. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zatoichi#List_of_original_films. ) Note: This is one of four Zatoichi films released in the same year. This is the seventh film overall. The schedule is more like television than film, but they were released in theaters and the run time matches the fact that they are films. The budget ain't half bad either on these movies. It's just the frequency of these films leaves little room for straying from the formula. It also helps if you have a working knowledge of feudal Japan outside of the YouTube clip.
But Zatoichi typifies what makes jidaigeki so intriguing. The films are set firmly in Japan, where yakuza dominated regions and demanded tribute. They are the gangster films of Japan and they do that formula really well. Zatoichi goes a bit farther and adds an element of mindless violence and coolness to the films as well. A bigger task that the filmmakers have to undergo rather than beefing up the plots is deciding set pieces for Shintaro Katsu to play in. This one's great playground, albeit brief, is a lake. Zatoichi murders some folks underwater with a sword. That's awesome. He also does this really cool thing with a candle that is the only tie between the plot and the title, but I couldn't find a high res still to put above. So the big thing is, again, how do you review these movies individually?
This is the definition of franchise fatigue. I love Zatoichi as a character. The concept is very cool, if not completely unbelievable. I know I attacked the same character in Rogue One, but Zatoichi is the OG of the blind killing machine. His personality is great, if not a little goofy. I even enjoy the idea of watching the movie. The movies themselves are great. I might even say that I like this one a little bit more than some of the other ones I watched. But I also get bored watching the same thing over and over again. (I can hear the collective audience just shouting, "Then just don't watch them." That, collective unconscious, is not an option.) But fatigue happens when you get too much of a good thing over and over. I think that's why people are more annoyed at Iron Fist than the criticisms I've actually read. (Also, that's why I've been slow to post new movie reviews. I'm trying to knock out Iron Fist.) I get so bored and I can't possibly get attached to new characters. Like with most of the Zatoichi franchise, there is a likable boss and a romantic interest. But by this point, I knew that neither of these characters actually had any investment because they never do. James Bond at least has the advantage over Zatoichi because at least there is some time between those films. James Bond really becomes a look at the era rather than an analysis of a character. James Bond, although rare, will also change its formula from time to time. Seven films in and we have many of the same conflicts as in the first movie, with the exception that he is now a fugitive. For a half second, I really thought the plot was going to give me something new. The movie teased a bullet throwing Zatoichi off his game. He actually seemed genuinely blind, but that thread was simply to pad out the movie and didn't actually get addressed at all. I would have loved to see him relearn everything that he took for granted before, but I was not so lucky. The movie plays out the same way, all the way to the epic finale. I applaud the fact that the end was at least shot differently. I really liked the bird's eye angle for the mass slaughter I was getting. But the emotional beats? Exactly the same.
Do you know how much Zatoichi stuff I burned in this review? If you thought I was scared about writing a Zatoichi criticism before, what will I have to write for the next one, Fight, Zatochi, Fight?
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.