Zatoichi: The Festival Of Fire (Japan 1970)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 5/15/10
Director: Misumi Kenji
Cast: Shintaro Katsu, Reiko Ohara

Twenty-first film in the series.

Another beautifully filmed Zatoichi adventure, but the pacing is slow and the meandering story is weak. The film opens with Zatoichi (Shintaro Katsu) giving a massage to a lecherous yakuza boss at a mistress auction. The lech ends up buying a beautiful wife of a samurai for an exorbitant amount, and Ichi decides to rescue the woman from her awful fate. Unfortunately, her husband shows up and kills her for being unfaithful. He also vows to kill Ichi, whom he thinks slept with his wife. Meanwhile, Ichi wanders into the town of the "Boss Of Bosses" - a dark lord who rules over eight yakuza territories and heavily exploits the population. This man is also blind, which leads to the inevitable blind man vs. blind man showdown. Thrown into the middle of this mess is the lovely Okiyo (Reiko Ohara) who manages to steal Ichi's heart. Initially set up to betray him, she eventually develops feelings for him as well, which ultimately leads to heavy bloodshed as the yakuza clans fall to Ichi's blade. Unfortunately, the sting of Okiyo's deception is too much for Ichi to bear and he bitterly rejects her as he wanders into the distance.

Again, the production values of the film are fantastic and the film is simply wonderful to look at. All of the actors are excellent and the direction is very good. The fight scenes are pretty much what we've come to expect from the series and are quite satisfying. The only disappointment is the complete lack of blood. There are a handful of scenes that really stick out in the film, including a fascinating sword fight at a bath house with a bunch of naked men. It's as comical as it is intense. The film also features an awkward homosexual scene where a young pretty boy pimp attempts to seduce (and murder) Ichi. Watching Ichi and the blind boss play Go is also a delightful scene. Unfortunately, the loose plot is the weakest element of the production and the film doesn't seem to have a point.