Zatoichi Meets The One-Armed Swordsman (Japan 1971)

Rating: ***
Alternate Title: Zatoichi: Destroy The Chinese Sword!
Review Date: 5/16/10
Cast: Shintaro Katsu, Jimmy Wang Yu

Twenty-second film in the series.

Zatoichi teams up with another cinematic hero, and much like the previous "Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo" (1970), the results are pretty much the same. Wang Kang (Jimmy Wang Yu) is a powerful one-armed swordsman from China who has come to Japan to live a peaceful life free from persecution. Unfortunately, a child's innocent act leads to tragedy and Wang is framed for murder and offending the Shogunate. Zatoichi (Shintaro Katsu) stumbles upon the young boy and takes him in, causing him to get involved in the same mess. Eventually Wang and Ichi meet up and create an awkward alliance, but they are forever at odds with each other due to the language barrier. Only the young boy can translate between them, but additional misunderstandings lead to Wang distrusting Ichi and he swears to kill him. As these films go, the last twenty minutes are a non-stop kill fest as Ichi and Wang slay dozens of Yakuza vermin that are thrown at them. Things get very interesting right at the end when Wang and Ichi face off against each other, which turns into a tense battle of reluctant equals. In a seriously downbeat ending, they both echo the same sentiment: "If only we understood each other, we wouldn't have to fight." A powerful message, as well as a daring one, considering the long standing ill will between China and Japan.

Another fine looking production, but by this point all of the Zatoichi films seem to blur together. One notable difference is the bizarre soundtrack, which features contemporary heavy jazz, for lack of a better term. It's very out of place and reminiscent of the "Lone Wolf And Cub" films that came out around the same time. The film also features some highly welcomed blood geysers, as they were coming into fashion during the early 1970's. However, the film's greatest achievement is bringing together Chinese kung fu and Japanese samurai drama, and the result is quite unique. While the kung fu element is pretty weak and Wang Yu definitely takes a back seat to Katsu, he is never vilified and an undercurrent of international friendship runs throughout the film. Not surprisingly, the film's ending favors Ichi, as Wang's fate is left unknown. I wouldn't be surprised if a different ending was shot for Chinese audiences.