The Blind Swordsman's Pilgrimage (Japan 1966)

Rating: **
Review Date: 4/28/01
Cast: Shintaro Katsu, Yasuda Michiyo

Fourteenth film in the series.

A beautifully filmed, but plodding and pointless Zatoichi adventure. Either the series is showing some wear, or I'm starting to get tired of watching them. The film starts out on a boat that Zatoichi (Shintaro Katsu) is travelling on. When a brash thief openly steals someone's wallet and bullies the other passengers, Ichi teaches him a lesson by gruesomely cutting off his hand. The film then suddenly jerks to Ichi praying to Buddha (presumably) and pledging to make a pilgrimage to 81 temples in order to find out whether his slain victims become angels or not. (although I suspect this is a translation error - is there a notion of angels in Buddhism?) This sets up an interesting premise of Ichi exploring spirituality to atone for his bloody past, but it doesn't go anywhere. In the following scene, the entire pilgrimage plot line is dropped in favor of Ichi stumbling into a village that's being bullied by a nasty Yakuza boss and his slimy gang. How original. After killing a young man, Ichi is led back to the young man's village by his rather peculiar horse. Upon learning that her brother is dead, Okichi (cute Yasuda Michiyo) grabs a sword and attacks Ichi, either in an attempt to avenge her brother or in an attempt to commit suicide by forcing Ichi to defend himself. After injuring Ichi (who did NOT defend himself), Okichi tends to his wounds, nurses him back to health, and starts to fall in love with him. (?!?) The whole "falling in love with your loved one's killer" plot device never works for me. But the big bad Yakuza boss won't leave the lovebirds alone and decides to kill Zatoichi in order to take over the village. The sly and cowardly townfolk refuse to go against the bandits and instead coerce Ichi into protecting them. Ichi eventually takes everyone out in a well staged battle, while the cowering villagers watch from the safety of their homes, never lifting a finger to help him out. After killing all of the bad guys, Ichi wanders off into the distance.

It's a promising film that just seems to self destruct before your eyes. The continuity and editing make the story hard to follow at times, and many of the plot elements are confusing and downright bizarre. The whole sequence where the horse pushes his master's body into the river and then follows Ichi around is just weird. And it gets weirder when the horse encourages Ichi to follow him to the village. The sexual tension in the film is also odd, and while there's a definite attraction between Ichi and Okichi, it's accompanied by creepy and inappropriate music, as if something scary were about to happen. On the plus side, the cinematography is great and incorporates a lot of broad panoramic shots. Although extremely light on action, the two or three fight scenes are excellent and there are some extremely impressive arrow effects thrown in. It's just unfortunate that the rest of the film fails to be interesting.