Zatoichi The Outlaw (Japan 1967)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 4/15/00
Alternate Title: Zatoichi Escapes From Jail
Cast: Shintaro Katsu

Sixteenth film in the series. (?)

This was my first Zatoichi film, and appears to be the first film of the series to be released by the good people at Samurai Cinema. (either that or I've got a lot of catching up to do!) Zatoichi is a blind swordsman, wandering from town to town in search of a peaceful life. Unfortunately, trouble has the tendency to find him, forcing Zatoichi to draw his sword and spill blood time and time again. In this entry, Zatoichi (matchless Shintaro Katsu) comes across a poor village whose peasants are being exploited by the local gambling establishments (a familiar theme). Zatoichi hates crooked gamblers and eventually kills the bad guys, but the aftermath creates an even worse situation for the peasants. He returns a year later and ends up taking out the rest of the trash, giving the peasants new hope for a better future.

A fairly simple plot that's episodic in structure. Hardly any time is spent with exposition or character development, and it's as if the camera is just following Zatoichi around and taking note of his exploits. As such, it can be a little dry at times, but this is more than made up for with Shintaro Katsu's amazing portrayal of Zatoichi. His characterization of Zatoichi is deep and complex, matched only by his uncanny physical performance. His movements, posturing, and demeanor are right on the money and very believable, from his awkward bumbling to his graceful and efficient sword fighting. Good stuff, even though he kinda creeps me out with his eyes always fluttering.