Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman's Vengeance (Japan 1966)

Rating: ****
Review Date: 6/18/00
Cast: Shintaro Katsu

Thirteenth film in the series.

Another riveting Zatoichi film, but decidedly more somber and philosophical as it explores the harmful aftermath of Zatoichi's deeds. Although the title is VERY similar, do not confuse this film with "The Blind Swordsman's Revenge" (1965). The film opens with a young man being slain by an assassin. Minding his own business, Zatoichi comes across the dying man who begs him to deliver some money to his family. He reluctantly agrees, and on the way to town he meets up with a blind, but very perceptive musician. It is through his wisdom that Zatoichi is forced to see the consequences of his violent acts. As luck would have it, the once peaceful town where Ichi is staying has become overrun with and exploited by Yakuza thugs. Ichi can't stand seeing the people suffer, so he strikes out at them in defiance. Unfortunately, his courage and bravery inspires a young boy who starts to idolize Ichi's swordplay, and his innocence becomes jeopardized. Ichi decides to leave town as soon as possible, but there are too many loose ends left to be tied up - that is, there are too many gangsters left hanging around to kill. In a tense and extremely well played climax, Ichi kills all the bad guys and returns the town to the villagers. However, even with the village liberated, the film ends on a down note as it focuses on the innocent people who have suffered from secondhand bloodshed. Great stuff!

The blind musician pointing out the consequences of Zatoichi's acts is a brilliant move and adds considerable depth and angst to the story. Not only does Ichi have to defend himself and protect his friends from harm, but he also has to look out for the well being of an impressionable young boy by providing him with a positive role model. In the end, however, Ichi's true nature as a yakuza killer is forced back to the surface, and its effects are moving. The action scenes in this installment are excellent, but maddeningly shot under low lighting which makes them difficult to follow. Additionally, after giving up his cane sword, Ichi is forced to fight with a standard katana, and his ability to adapt to a different fighting style is exciting to watch.