Zatoichi The Fugitive (Japan 1963)

Rating: ****
Review Date: 4/22/00
Cast: Shintaro Katsu, Miwa Takada

Fourth film in the series.

Damn! What an awesome film this is! I was so enthralled with it that I forgot to eat my dinner, which was sitting in my lap the whole time. The film opens with the familiar scene of blind Zatoichi (Shintaro Katsu) wandering into a new village. He enters a sumo wrestling contest at the local fair and manages to win, incurring the wrath of the local Yakuza. A price is put on Zatoichi's head, and after he kills a young man who attacked him, he decides to find out where the bounty came from. This leads him into the middle of a Yakuza power struggle, and he makes a mess of everything. He also stumbles into a former girlfriend of his, who is now married to a disreputable ronin who also has a score to settle with Zatoichi. Everything eventually works out, but not after dozens of people taste Zatoichi's blade.

I'm really beginning to like this series. This film is nearly flawless - the performances are superb, the writing is intelligent and engaging, the cinematography is gorgeous, and the action scenes are exciting. Shintaro Katsu continues to amaze with his brilliant portrayal of Zatoichi, and the actress who plays Onobu (Miwa Takada) is impossibly cute (she also showed up in "Sleepy Eyes Of Death 2"). If I have any complaints about the film, it's that the combat scenes lack blood, which is not surprising considering when the film was made. When people get sliced with swords, I want to see blood erupting out of them. Regardless, it's a very minor issue, and the lack of blood surprisingly doesn't detract from the intensity of the fighting. Chambara Entertainment has done a good job with this film, presenting it in "Chambarama" - the widescreen print is moved to the top of the screen allowing more room for subtitles at the bottom of the screen. Great stuff for fans of samurai action.