Zatoichi's Conspiracy (Japan 1973)

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

Twenty-fifth film in the series.

The final film in the original Zatoichi series goes out with a bang, although Shintaro Katsu continued to play the role in the TV series and reprised the role one final time in the 1989 film, "Zatoichi, Darkness Is His Ally." In this installment, Ichi visits the town that he grew up in and learns that you can never go home. The farmers are starving and being unfairly taxed, while the wealthy magistrate is sitting on a huge stockpile of rice. Conveniently, a childhood friend of Ichi's has also come back home at the exact same time, and has agreed to pay the farmers' back taxes. While his benevolence gains the peoples' admiration and respect, it's all part of a devious plan to steal their land. Ichi warns Shinbei several times to stop what he's doing and leave town, but he's blinded by power and ambition. The only way he'll change his ways is in death. Once again, Ichi saves an oppressed community and washes away the filth in a river of blood.

This film is definitely an improvement over the disappointing "Zatoichi In Desperation" (1972), and Katsu is in rare form. Ichi even comes across as a bit sinister, and you can sense a bit of wicked glee from him as he sends his foes to hell. It's very intense and unusual for the character, and the rage that he experiences is very tangible. The film is a bit bloodier as well, with several hacked off limbs and a couple of shockingly messy (and very satisfying) deaths. While it may be the end of the series, it's not the end of Ichi's tale as he once again wanders off into the sunset, forever searching for a place where he can find peace. After watching all of these films, I can only wonder if feudal Japan was really as miserable as it's portrayed? Were there any leaders that weren't corrupt, and any towns that weren't overrun by violent gangsters? I suppose the same could be said of American westerns. Of course, without conflict and adversity, stories can be a bit boring, and the notion of a hero for the common people has always been a popular and resonant theme.