Zatoichi: The Life And Opinion Of Masseur Ichi (Japan 1962)

Rating: ***
Alternate Titles: The Tale Of Zatoichi, Zatoichi's Story
Review Date: 4/30/00
Cast: Shintaro Katsu

First film in the series.

Not surprisingly, this first film in the "Zatoichi" series is long-winded, a tad dry, and light on action. The majority of the film revolves around introducing and exploring the character and motivations of a blind swordsman known as Zatoichi (played by Shintaro Katsu) who wanders into a strange town where he becomes the guest of the local gang boss. Through various episodes we learn about his past history as a travelling masseur, a gambler, and a matchless swordsman. He meets the young and beautiful Otane, who falls in love with Ichi despite his attempts to discourage her. He also meets an ailing samurai from a rival clan, and the two become friends. Of course, this ultimately leads to a tense and reluctant showdown between the two when the two clans go to war, with the predictable outcome.

A good introduction to the series that would establish Shintaro Katsu's mega-stardom, but the film suffers from its age. It's in black and white, the pacing is slow, the music is extremely sparse, the action is even more sparse, and although Katsu gives a strong and emotional performance, he seems a bit unsure of himself.