Zatoichi At Large (Japan 1972)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 5/22/10
Cast: Shintaro Katsu, Naoko Otani

Twenty-third film in the series.

Zatoichi (Shintaro Katsu) has an amazing talent for being framed. Especially when he's attempting to perform a good deed. (my sister suffers from a similar problem) This time around, a pregnant woman is attacked by bandits and left to die. Ichi stumbles across her body and manages to deliver her child, and with her dying breath she asks Ichi to return her newborn son to her husband, Sataro. He isn't around so he asks Sataro's sister, Oyae (pretty Naoko Otani), to care for the child, and she reluctantly agrees. Meanwhile, a nasty group of gangsters comes to town with a grudge against the village constable, and Ichi is accused of murdering the pregnant woman. Ichi ends up defending the villagers and desperately tries to save Oyae from being forced into prostitution, but the gangsters won't settle for anything less than Ichi's head. Stupid Yakuza. They never learn... Ichi clears his name and peace is finally restored to the town, but at a terribly high cost.

Another good looking Zatoichi production with the usual pacing problems. The middle of the film really drags while the Yakuza are showing off how mean they are, and the goofy festival entertainers are just painful to watch. There's also an incredibly annoying theme song that bookends the film. It's just awful. Some jerky hand-held shots also disrupt the visual flow, which is unusual for the series. The action scenes are nicely staged and Ichi carves up dozens of attackers with his usual flair. The film also features some nice bloodshed, although not in the traditional explosive fashion.