The Trail Of Blood (Japan 1972)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 2/4/23
Director: Ikehiro Kazuo
Cast: Harada Yoshio

Jokichi (Harada Yoshio) is a drifter and sword for hire whose name carries quite a reputation. When he saves a young woman from a group of gangsters, he decides to go straight and raise a family with her. Unfortunately, his past catches up with him while his wife and child pay the price, which sets him on the bloody road to revenge. His primary targets are three yakuza bosses, but first he has to get through all of their disposable minions. There's a lot of sword fighting and it's very good, but with a title like "Trail Of Blood," it's disappointingly bloodless. In many ways, the fight scenes reminded me of the "Zatoichi" films, some of which were also directed by Ikehiro Kazuo. Jokichi even prefers a reverse grip, just like Zatoichi, which makes his style stand out from the rest. Unfortunately, an unnecessary late game plot twist invalidates most of the film and raises a lot of unanswerable questions.

It's a solid and attractive film with a good balance of action and drama. Charismatic Harada Yoshio gives an excellent performance full of humility, grace, angst, and unbridled rage. You can see and feel his pain throughout the film, and you want to see the bad guys pay for his suffering. Jokichi also has a strong moral center and doesn't like to see people bullied, which makes him irresistible to women. While it definitely has all the elements of an exploitation film, it's not nearly as outrageous as its contemporaries, so it has trouble standing out in the genre. Revenge can be a complicated business, and the film spawned two sequels for Jokichi to get the job done. I'm hoping they fare just as well.