679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

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Moe Dickstein
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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#101 Post by Moe Dickstein » Sat Feb 01, 2014 5:17 pm

I thought it was Toho who had the restrictions on foreign blu releases, not Shochiku

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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#102 Post by manicsounds » Sat Feb 01, 2014 7:28 pm

Moe Dickstein wrote:I thought it was Toho who had the restrictions on foreign blu releases, not Shochiku
Considering Criterion released some Toho titles on blu-ray or DVD before the Japanese releases, I believe it's on a case by case basis.

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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#103 Post by dwk » Tue Feb 11, 2014 3:15 am


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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#104 Post by Clodius » Tue Feb 18, 2014 5:04 am

So, I've decided to really delve into the Zatoichi collection over the next couple weeks, and while I'm journaling my thoughts on each film I thought I'd post it up here if anyone wants to talk about individual Ichi films, rather than the collection as a whole. I watched 1-6 soon after getting the collection but being buried under Holidays, I couldn't compile my thoughts easily. I'm going to start with #7, Zatoichi's Flashing Sword, and continue from there, eventually circling back around to #5 and #6 and probably ending with a rewatch and analysis of 1-4 (considering all of those are pretty closely connected). For those who care, spoilers ahead with each film.

Zatoichi's Flashing Sword

The seventh entry in the Zatoichi series, in this film we see the series in full stride as amazing examples of one-off action/chambara cinema. Shintaro Katsu carries the movie (as always) with down to earth humor, affability, humility, and raw power. Compared to some of the earlier Ichi films, the plot and characters in this one are easy to follow, even if the occasional minor twist occurs. The action in Flashing Sword starts early but trickles into a somewhat sedate second act before exploding (like so many fireworks) towards the end. Katsu shows the common humanity in the character, which helps make him so beloved, but the really interesting part of Flashing Sword is toward the end, when Ichi almost becomes a force of nature. Whatever definition one calls this film, it's also the most effective "ninja" movie I've ever seen, as Ichi moves from shadow to shadow. While watching the final 30 minutes or so, the film almost seemed like a reverse Halloween or Friday the 13th, as Ichi is practically a Jason Vorhees character, leaping out of the shadows, with the only difference being that the audience is rooting for him (in this way it seems the opening of The Professional might slightly ape it). I don't have much comment on deeper thematic issues (are there any? I'd love to be enlightened) but in this film a slightly higher emphasis is laid on disability than previous Ichi films (more references to his blindness, the deaf fireworks maker). The direction in this Zatoichi film is also stunning, with a number of great set-pieces pulled off brilliantly. To highlight just 3...
1. Ichi's fight in the river against 5 yakuza. The underwater filming nearly makes him seem like a proto-Jaws
2. Slashing away candles as the lights darken
3. The amazing long shot of Ichi battling down a hallway while fireworks explode above him

Watching up to #7 so far, Flashing Sword might be my favorite one-off so far.

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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#105 Post by Yojimbo » Tue Feb 18, 2014 12:37 pm

I don't think I've seen that one although I'd seen about 5 or 6 prior to deciding I'd work through them again from the beginning.
So I've watched the first two again and although the first was a very solid introduction, the second was even better: the sibling rivalry aspect gave the story added depth; and poignancy.

I'll get back to you on 'Flashing' though - and post on episodes in more detail.

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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#106 Post by Clodius » Sat Feb 22, 2014 10:32 pm

Fight Zaotichi Fight

Zatoichi number eight, this entry in the series is more of a drama, especially when compared to its immediate predecessor. A mother is killed by bounty hunters looking for Ichi, and Ichi takes it upon himself to deliver the motherless child to its father. He's eventually joined by a female thief while being pursued by the aforementioned bounty hunters. While Fight contains less action than Flashing Sword, the interplay being Zatoichi and the thief is pretty compelling in itself. While the film is bookended (as usual) by fights, the middle section nearly becomes Zatoichi: Married with Children. While their relationship is interesting for much of the film, the writing for it falls apart toward the end, when Ichi (inevitably) breaks it off with the now reformed thief. In most Ichi films, the romantic interest either dies, is engaged to someone else, or is a much higher social rank than Zatoichi, thereby providing an easy reason for him to leave. This film lacks that and suffers for it, because Ichi seems unreasonably cold and irrational in leaving the thief, in stark contrast to how he is usually portrayed. The "twist" toward the end of the movie, that the child's father is both a yakuza boss and a jerk, is pretty predictable, but it gives reason for a pretty decent action scene at the end (some impressive stuntwork in this fight involving fire, but no amazing long shots). When it comes to direction, this film is less showy than Flashing Sword, but it does include a fair bit of framing within the frame shots (ala Kurosawa), though there is a penchant for mickey mousing on the soundtrack. My final comment is actually more of a question. What's up with Asian cinema, bad-asses, and babies? Somewhat reminiscent of this is Hardboiled, with Chow-Yun-Fat wielding a shotgun in one hand and a baby in the other.

Bonus Topic!
An interesting feature of all these Zatoichi films is the way they end, very quickly. In Western cinema, there is always a 5-10 minute (at least!) denouement following the climax. In these, the movies either end seconds after Ichi defeats the villain of the film, or a minute or 2 later, after Ichi says a scant few lines of dialogue and hits the road. I really like the smash endings, as they keep the tempo up, but to me it's a very interesting difference.

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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#107 Post by manicsounds » Sun Feb 23, 2014 10:01 am

Clodius wrote:An interesting feature of all these Zatoichi films is the way they end, very quickly. In Western cinema, there is always a 5-10 minute (at least!) denouement following the climax. In these, the movies either end seconds after Ichi defeats the villain of the film, or a minute or 2 later, after Ichi says a scant few lines of dialogue and hits the road. I really like the smash endings, as they keep the tempo up, but to me it's a very interesting difference.
Check the ending of "Sword Of Doom" for something even more intriguing of an ending.
It's not just the Zatoichi films with these slay the bad guys, say a few lines and "The End", I think it was more common in 60's and 70's action films to have this kind of ending. Shaw Brothers action films, "Superfly", "The Street Fighter" series, etc. It certainly makes you want to see more when you finish the movie.

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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#108 Post by Clodius » Sat Mar 01, 2014 1:10 am

Adventures of Zatoichi

So far, I found this entry in the Zatoichi series to be the worst I've seen. The plot in the ninth Zatoichi film is tremendously overburdened for a film it's length (just under 90 minutes as most Ichi films are). Essentially, Ichi is drawn into fighting against an evil Yakuza boss and a corrupt government official during the New Year's celebrations in a city he's wandered to. This synopsis ignores 4(!) other concurrent plots (1: Ichi love interest whose father was killed by a guy set up by the yakuza villain, 2: Possible meeting of Ichi's father, 3: Suicidal bodyguard/ronin trope, 4: Random yojimbo set up for later movies). All this crammed in under 90 minutes makes the film's plot rather incomprehensible and unfocused, with not enough time devoted to any character to form real audience commitment. The obligations of Ichi movies are in full effect here as well, with a requisite gambling scene and a bodyguard who is only committed to fighting the best (recalling the first Ichi film). Katsu is fine, but he has less time to shine with such a densely plotted mess revolving around him. Directorially the film is perfectly adequate but nothing more.The fights are competently staged, but without any real ambition compared to the last few films. There are of course a few cool shots of Ichi slicing things (dice etc.) but nothing truly worth mentioning. Unless the hinted at yojimbo (not Mifune of course) shows up in the series later on, this is an eminently skippable entry in the series.

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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#109 Post by Tsar Bomba » Mon Mar 03, 2014 4:45 pm

I bought this when it first came out and just sat down today for the first time to watch it.

Would you believe I'm missing some discs? It looks like I've got one that has a manufacturing defect. It goes from discs 1-2-3 to 7-8-9. Discs 4-5-6 (Disc 2 BluRaySD version: Zatoichi the Fugitive, Zatoichi on the Road, and Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold + SD versions Disc 3 (dual-layer): Zatoichi the Fugitive and Zatoichi on the Road
Disc 4 (single-layer): Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold). Couldn't really find a support email under the contacts at Criterion so I sent the same email to all 3. The sleeve is just not there. It looks like it wasn't put into the boxed set. Kind of aggravating since Zatoichi The Fugitive and Chest of Gold are two of my favorites. I'll see what Criterion has to say. Movies look great by the way and the box set is superb - with the exception of the missing movies.

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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#110 Post by jindianajonz » Mon Mar 03, 2014 6:40 pm

I'm sure Criterion will get back to you, but for future reference, both the Mulvaney email and the store email have helped me with damaged/missing products. Response times have ranged from hours to weeks, and sometimes it's taken me a couple emails to get a response.

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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#111 Post by Tsar Bomba » Mon Mar 03, 2014 8:50 pm

jindianajonz wrote:I'm sure Criterion will get back to you, but for future reference, both the Mulvaney email and the store email have helped me with damaged/missing products. Response times have ranged from hours to weeks, and sometimes it's taken me a couple emails to get a response.
I'm just sorry I didn't check it sooner. They do make stellar products.

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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#112 Post by Antares » Tue Mar 04, 2014 10:16 pm

Tsar Bomba wrote:
jindianajonz wrote:I'm sure Criterion will get back to you, but for future reference, both the Mulvaney email and the store email have helped me with damaged/missing products. Response times have ranged from hours to weeks, and sometimes it's taken me a couple emails to get a response.
I'm just sorry I didn't check it sooner. They do make stellar products.
I'm so glad you posted about your problem. I have this set being delivered tomorrow and I have a bad habit of leaving new purchases sit for a while before I get to them. I'll be opening this set immediately when it comes in.

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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#113 Post by Antares » Thu Mar 06, 2014 1:46 pm

Does anyone know if there's a website that has the 25 film descriptions from the booklet, so I can copy and paste them into film overviews on my DVDProfiler program? I'm a horrible typist, and would much rather c & p instead of trying to type all 25 descriptions out.

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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#114 Post by jindianajonz » Thu Mar 06, 2014 1:58 pm

The Criterion site has individual pages for each film, including descriptions. Is that what you are looking for?

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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#115 Post by Antares » Thu Mar 06, 2014 2:12 pm

I may wind up having to using those descriptions, but no, that's not what I'm looking for. I'm looking for the notes for each film by Chris D. from inside the hardcover booklet that comes with the set.

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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#116 Post by Tsar Bomba » Sat Mar 08, 2014 10:39 pm

jindianajonz wrote:I'm sure Criterion will get back to you, but for future reference, both the Mulvaney email and the store email have helped me with damaged/missing products. Response times have ranged from hours to weeks, and sometimes it's taken me a couple emails to get a response.
Just thought I would let everyone know that Jon Mulvaney got back with me and sent out a new set of sleeves with the missing discs which came in today. Now my set is complete and it was great communication and stellar service.

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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#117 Post by Antares » Sun Mar 09, 2014 10:58 pm

Antares wrote:Does anyone know if there's a website that has the 25 film descriptions from the booklet, so I can copy and paste them into film overviews on my DVDProfiler program? I'm a horrible typist, and would much rather c & p instead of trying to type all 25 descriptions out.
No one has successfully responded to this question, so my next step is to try and contact Criterion and see if they have them on a .txt file or something. Who should I direct my inquiry to? Any help would be appreciated.

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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#118 Post by jindianajonz » Sun Mar 09, 2014 11:39 pm

Mulvaney would be your best bet; it seems to be their generic inquiries account.

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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#119 Post by essrog » Mon Mar 10, 2014 12:24 am

See if this works: it's a link to the Zatoichi box in my online collection through My Movies. You should be able to just go title by title, and copy and paste the descriptions from each film. They should even be in order.

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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#120 Post by Antares » Mon Mar 10, 2014 7:33 am

essrog wrote:See if this works: it's a link to the Zatoichi box in my online collection through My Movies. You should be able to just go title by title, and copy and paste the descriptions from each film. They should even be in order.
That's it...Thanks!!! \:D/

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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#121 Post by Antares » Sat Mar 29, 2014 12:14 pm

I'm almost a third of the way through this set, and I have to say what a wonderful job Criterion did with this collection. The transfers are vivid, pretty clean and clear. I love the artwork done for each film in the booklet, with the exception of Zatoichi and the Doomed Man, it looks a bit too much like something from a comic strip.

If anyone is on the fence about making the purchase, I can give you assurance that you will love it.

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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#122 Post by movielocke » Thu Aug 28, 2014 8:07 pm

I delved into the first three films earlier in the summer.

The Tale of Zatoichi is brilliant, wonderful lighting, strong performances and a story every bit as good as the best samurai films. What seems to make it work so well is the mutual respect and natural tension between the teminally ill samurai and the terminally blind samurai; their relative calmness amidst the sea of frantic braying on either clan's side seems to be a veiled political critique, but I'm not sure how to interpret it, other than on the more universal human nature levels that are obvious.

Plunging right into the next film, The Tale of Zatoichi Continues, it initially feels like more of a let down, but upon reflection it actually holds up better than I initially thought, particularly after seeing the third, relatively dismal film. At first I felt the one-armed swordsman to be a weak attempt to replicate the teminally ill swordsman of the first film, and I held that against the film, but after reading the notes included on the film, and thinking about it, I think that's pretty unfair, the film doesn't have the same magic as the first one--other than in the central performance--but it is nearly as good as the first. The film ends on a cliffhanger battle, a battle naturally not continued in the third film.

I remain fairly lukewarm to the New Tale of Zatoichi. This is the tiresome trope in which the super hero gives up his powers to try and settle down. But Shane this is not, it's more Superman 2. Mostly, I felt like the shrill melodramatics of the marriage tensions were an ill fit on top of the melodramatics of the samurai and yakuza tensions that have been the principle element of all three plots so far. That's not to say it can't work, just that the execution of the elements here didn't fit them together well. This is the first of the films to have poor pacing, and I missed the stunning black and white cinematography of the first two films.
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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#123 Post by movielocke » Fri Nov 07, 2014 5:33 pm

Zatoichi the Fugitive seems like it gets right back on track with the Yakuza, Samurai, Zatoichi triangle in full effect again with barely any melodramatic nonsense. The film has the most action of any film to date and is a little more modern in the fantasy action (that no matter what Zatoichi can cut down an infinite number of perpetually respawning Yakuza, like a gun battle in an eighties action movie) than the more realistic action of the previous films. The film opens with Zatoichi winning a sumo tournament, immediately after he is accosted on the road by a random yakuza, but the two opening events are unconnected, the boy didn't want his winnings, the boy wanted to be famous for killing the notorious Zatoichi. Zatoichi killed the lad, feels bad and journeys to the boy's village to apologize to the boy's mother for killing her son. As he arrives, the town is celebrating the coronation of a new yakuza boss. The old boss has died and now his son is ascending to his position. Zatoichi then gets mixed up in the politics of the various yakuza branches, who are at each others throats, the former yakuza who run the inn he's staying at (and whose daughter is the insignificant love interest for the crowned boy yakuza) and a mysterious itinerant samurai who is also staying at the hotel with one of Zatoichi's old lovers.

I wasn't sure if I was supposed to know any of the characters in the film from the previous three films, I don't remember any of them, but contextually the film seems to suggest this is the same group of yakuza pestering Zatoichi in the earlier films, or perhaps the girl is supposed to be the girl he shacks up with at the beginning of the second film? Or it's all just meant to suggest a rich history for the character and it doesn't really matter, because at this point in the series, the character has enough notoriety that everyone knows him.

The film is tremendously fun in a solid B action movie way. Very enjoyable and more rewatchable than the third film.

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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#124 Post by movielocke » Sun Nov 09, 2014 7:58 pm

Zatoichi on the Road is a significant letdown from the first four films. the dialogue is didactic and wooden, exceptionally terrible throughout. When it began I thought, "that's odd, it's an almost shakespearean/greek approach of the character taking a sidestep and then vocalizing inner thoughts and motivations to the audience in a soliloquy," but it's not pulled off well and seems bizarrely out of place from the rest of the film. The action is almost nonstop and Zatoichi is perhaps his most badass and ballsy of the series at this point (more of a "shoot first" James Bond murder maven than a reluctant killer Destry type of the first two films... but perhaps that comparison mixes too many metaphors and genres...).

But the weaknesses don't stop there, the plot and character motivations are breathtaking poor, to the degree that it often reminded me of anime serials (and the character of the bad girl for some reason reminded of the bad girl Jessie from Team Rocket from my younger siblings beloved Pokemon cartoons).
SpoilerShow
Basically Zatoichi is recruited to "hang out" with a nearby boss, and he naively believes that's all there is to it, blissfully unaware the boss wants to recruit him for his upcoming turf war. He and the recruiter are accosted on the road, the recruiter dies and Zatoichi kills the attackers but leaves Team Rocket girl alive, but she's pissed at him for guilttripping her when she robs the corpses. Zatoichi then encounters a bunch of samurai/yakuza who are literally zigzagging back and forth and up and down the frame whilst screaming and hollering and making nonstop ineffectual ruckus. they are scream searching for a girl who (in a later line of weak explanatory dialogue that makes you think this is a bad stage adaptation) has stabbed a local lord with her hairpin when he tried to rape her. Zatoichi then stumbles upon an old man dying in the road, he's been killed by the scream searchers and begs Zatoichi to protect Omitsu, the missing girl. Zatoichi agrees and then yells for her, that brings back the scream searchers who then runaway screaming again when they realize its just the blind guy. Zatoichi then does a soliloquy about how he can't find Omitsu, what shall he do when Omitsu appears from a shed that has been in the frame the entire time, a tiny little shed, open to the camera, very cartoonish. Omitsu appears to have not heard Ichi's soliloquy, but shrieks and throws herself onto the old man and begins to ask who will protect her now. woe is her. Naturally Ichi agrees to take her to Edo. They make their way that direction after killing some more people. they stop at an inn where naturally Team Rocket is staying. Zatoichi gives one of them a massage while Team Rocket girl steals Omitsu. Because all of a sudden Omitsu is now an extremely valuable heiress of a prominant family and worth a ransom of 5000 gold pieces. Well that came out of nowhere. Team Rocket girl's brilliant plan is to hire a travel service to get them out of town quick before Zatoichi can find them. but shocker, they just steal Omitsu from team Rocket. Zatoichi rather brilliantly gets her back with no bloodshed, and then for no discernable nor explainable reason decides to put her on the road to Edo in the care of another travel service (Zatoichi is later shocked to discover that Team Rocket girl immediately stole Omitsu from the travel service once Ichi was out of sight). Then that opening scene about the upcoming turf war is relevant again. Ichi signs on to one team only to betray them for the other team when the other team blackmails him by threatening Omitsu (since team rocket girl has delivered her to them). Zatoichi flips sides, kills a bunch of people and then kills the bosses and lieutenents of both sides because he has judged them all dispicable. Then, the epic battle over, he inexplicably sends Omitsu off on her own again to Edo not having apparently learned anything about how badly that went the last time, the end.
So the film is frankly terrible, but it is deliciously pulpy and often has terrific wall-to-wall action sequences, well paced moments of tension when Zatoichi doesn't just whip out his sword to solve a problem, and more music than the other four films (and the music is pretty good). It feels like a big dumb western, or a big dumb action movie and I'm kind of okay with that, it clearly defines itself as nothing more than a B movie, which the more serious earlier entries were not.
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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#125 Post by movielocke » Mon Nov 10, 2014 1:35 am

Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold is significantly better than the previous film, but suffers some bad serial plotting as well. The dialogue is not so clunky, and the film is even more action packed. Most notably, this is hands down the most visually stunning color Zatoichi film in the series thus far. There are superb and dramatic compositions and some particularly impressive long single take crane shots of Zatoichi fighting his way through innumerable respawning opponents. Despite doing quite a bit of detectiving, Zatoichi winds up resolving every problem with a sword. This film also introduces flashbacks, horses, guns, blood, a musical number and even a couple sexy scenes to the series.

The film's biggest weakness is perhaps the very minor character of a sister of a man Zatoichi killed several years ago. The sister is acting as Zatoichi's guide along the road when he asks to stop at her brother's grave.
SpoilerShow
But she doesn't tell Ichi its her brother and instead spies on him while he grieves and apologizes at the grave for killing the lad, in a bloody flashback we see the lad run away from a battle that Ichi is refusing to fight in. The boy attacks Ichi and is killed. The sister is spying on him as he grieves, then, a now alone Ichi meets a village party, they've paid off the tax man, and Ichi joins the song and plays the drum. Then suddenly the taxes are being delivered, but bandits attack. the chest of gold rolls down a hillside and some people chase after it, though not apparently the three bandits who led the attack, who will disappear until later in the film, uninterested in the money, seemingly, now that it lying all by its lonesome beside the creek. Then, cut to people running down the hill after the chest of gold. Then, cut to Zatoichi who has apparently teleported away from the musical number and is now sitting on the chest of gold by the creek smoking. apparently he didn't hear it tumble or clink it's way to him? (Near the end of the film we are told that the chest of gold landed beside the grave, so perhaps all these scenes are just out of order?) Zatoichi kills three of five people who attack him, and two others run away, but remember these people trying to retrieve the gold are apparently not related to the people trying to steal the gold, apparently the people trying to steal it are not interested in retrieving it? We never know because once again Zatoichi teleports, because we cut straight to Ichi drunk in an inn, being accosted by the townsfolk. The sister appears out of nowhere and accuses him of stealing the gold because he was sitting on it. What? The village throws him out and claims the local Robin Hood is to blame, that dude is a buddy of Ichi so he pledges to solve the mystery. Ichi meets up with Robin Hood, who can't figure out why his men are trickling away and the villagers are abandoning him. Then the sister teleports to the local magistrate to tattle that Ichi is in the area and raising trouble. Then the magistrate yells at the villagers for not paying their taxes, refusing to believe a story of theft (which immediately makes every viewer think that the magistrate orchestrated the theft, a belief that will swiftly be proven correct). Then Robin Hood leads, except, ohmygod outofnowhere, there's a small boy visiting Robin Hood for some reason, so naturally Ichi offers to carry the boy on his back to return him to the village while Robin Hood escapes the magistrate. From there the plot continues to convolute and at some point Ichi takes a sexy bath with a fellow traveler and Ichi gets a happy ending when an ugly prostitute gives him a "massage"... But after killing another fifty or sixty people, including eight men armed with guns, Ichi eventually faces down the magistrate, rescues villagers slated for execution. restores the stolen money and in an epic, brutally violent, climax faces down a samurai on a horse armed with a whip who inflicts more damage on Ichi than anyone else in the franchise has managed.
The film is satisfying for the truly stunning cinematography, epic and brilliant action scenes, and a nonstop score propulsively managing the pace. The plot is messy, pulpy nonsense, almost comical at times in the disjointed storytelling and inexplicable inability of Ichi to explain what he knows to the innocent and distraught villagers, but overall it is not nearly as absurd as Zatoichi on the Road, and is far more enjoyable throughout, mainly because of the better dialogue and perhaps because it is a little bit campier in its efforts to add blood and sex.

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