Not rated, but Zatoichi continues to kill all kinds of dudes using swords. There's blood, but the blood is pretty minimal considering how many people he kills. There's also a bordello in the movie. It is treated somewhat tastefully, but I can't avoid mentioning it. I tend to watch Lone Wolf and Cub movies after I watch a Zatoichi movie. The Lone Wolf and Cub movies make these movies feel real tame. Not rated.
DIRECTOR: Akira Inoue
I think my Zatoichi posts must be the least read. I would be willing to bet that anyone from my limited readership has gotten as far into the Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman box as I have. It's a bit of a chore, to a certain respect. It's not that I don't enjoy them. I actually really look forward to when another one falls into the queue. (There's a completely organized, but ludicrous system to things showing up on the viewing list. It makes complete sense in my mind. I'll just throw it right here: Netflix DVD, streaming movie, a James Bond movie, a Fox Searchlight movie, a rotation between Zatoichi-BBS-Lone Wolf, and a movie that I own but haven't watched my copy of.) Zatoichi's Revenge is probably one of my favorite movies in a while, and it almost completely comes from the concept that it is slightly different to the other movies.
I can't stress the "slightly" aspect of how different this movie is. It, like the other entries in the Zatoichi franchise, does the same things that the other movies do. Zatoichi is on the road. People underestimate him. He does some flashy swordwork. He makes friends. The local gangsters want to get rid of him. There's a big boss that Zatoichi has to take care of. He then murders a bunch of dudes. He moves on. Sorry if I spoiled both Zatoichi's Revenge, but also all the other Zatoichi movies, but I have to lay that out there because it works. The first movies in the series were all about just presenting that formula. As such, the stories weren't very interesting because the conflict always was always external. Zatoichi tended to be a force of the universe, solving problems that weren't really his own.
It's kind of absurd that the movies in this arc of Zatoichi films tend to have some personal connection to Zatoichi. I've criticized this period pretty hard by forcing these emotional stakes on the character. Zatoichi's Revenge might have finally learned the lesson. Yeah, the internal conflicts tend to be a bit ham-handed, but they are introduced way earlier. Rather than have these artificial friendships hoisted upon the character, only to have them taken away, Zatoichi is intentionally visiting this place because he wishes to see his old master. He has a connection to this town that has been dominated by gangsters. His teacher has been killed and he has been stripped of his mission. Sure, we never heard of this guy before. But I do like something that would make sense for his character. As a nomad, there would be very few actual ties that Zatoichi could keep, but one would be the guy who taught him to do all this cool stuff. It also makes sense that Zatoichi would have loose ties to the people in this town.
What kind of happens, and it isn't overt, is that Zatoichi shifts from the role of outsider to the spiritual fatherhood of a lot of the characters. Zatoichi tends to be hope for towns. When he can samurai sword anyone and anything faster than lightning, he becomes almost like a superhero. But it seems like, in this one, that people actually care what Zatoichi thinks of them. Denroku actually has a pretty tight arc with this movie in conjunction to his relationship with Zatoichi that we don't usually get in one of these movies. He's this guy that we instantly like. He sucks in the sense that he's kind of selfish and named "the Weasel", but he is instantly way more human than the other characters we meet. He's a rogue at the bottom of his game. He is a guy who is forced by circumstance to be a little bit gross. He has a daughter and he lost his wife. He is this hesitant bad guy, simply because he serves the gangsters. But we see this genuine friendship develop between both of these characters that, for once, makes a ton of sense. When Denroku accepts the stolen cane, it becomes this honest-to-goodness Judas moment. He goes through this whole moral conundrum. He knows that stealing the cane is the worst thing that he can do to Zatoichi, but he also wants to save his daughter from being taken away. Then the movie allows him to see beyond the binary choice and it works out. It's pretty fantastic.
It also heavily implies that Zatoichi is a father figure to Sayo (if I'm mixing up my characters, I apologize. I watched this a week ago and Zatoichi movies tend to blend together). Considering that this town is personal to Zatoichi, he feels far more comfortable. Instead of the outsider commenting on the ills of this tiny society, Zatoichi almost comes to the story from a sense of authority. We know that Sayo is Denroku's daughter, but Zatoichi offers what Denroku cannot. There's a sense of normality and a tie to Sayo's mother that plays really well as a narrative function. There's this great scene where Zatoichi knows the end of the song that Sayo's mother used to sing. The previous films kept on teasing the idea that Zatochi's quest for acceptance would always be spoiled by a life of violence. It is never more so than when he has to kill the assassin, yet shelter the girl from seeing this violence. I mean, it's a bit heavy handed, but it really works in this scene. I like when it becomes really personal and when Zatoichi might see his life as a curse more than anything else.
The rest of the movie is just a good time. I don't know what would make sword fighting action more interesting in one movie versus another. I know that the people behind these movies love the idea of dice being a false kryptonite for Zatoichi. This one also has the fast blade showing the reality of the dice trick. I think I wrote all about this in another Zatoichi analysis, but the movie really gives him no vulnerability through his blindness. There are moments that straight up stress that Zatoichi can see as well as anyone else. But it works. At least there are things that Daredevil avoids, knowing that there would be no way for him to identify the issues. But Zatoichi straight up doesn't care. Someone was actually holding up fingers and Zatoichi got it, first try. Okay. Regardless, I really dig Zatoichi movies if I spread them out a bit. There are just so many of them. I was kind of depressed that I was ONLY on number 10. This was a super fun time. The key is to not binge these movies.
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.