679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

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movielocke
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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#126 Post by movielocke » Tue Mar 10, 2015 7:23 pm

Zatoichi's Flashing Sword might have the best title in the entire series, thankfully, it's one of the stronger films out of the first seven.

The film opens with a brief pre-credits prologue of a sleeping Zatoichi scaring some gamblers. Three flies are pestering him, so his "flashing sword" comes out and then there are three dead flies. Over the top and amazing. The title sequence features fleet running legs, then James Bond style cuts to a man with a gun who points it dead center at the camera and fires.

This gunman, Seiroku, it turns out, is the deadbeat son of a local benevolent lord, Bunkichi. Seiroku was firing the gun at Zatoichi, Seiroku is hoping to become legendary as the man who slew the notorious yakuza swordsman. He immediately runs off to brag he's killed Zatoichi.

Unbeknownst to Seiroku, his sister, Okuni, was nearby, and she decides to aid the unfortunate Zatoichi (whom she does not know, nor does she know her brother was the gunman). Zatoichi was not badly hurt and recovers in a nearby inn. He then leaves, intent on finding and repaying his unknown benefactor.

This is all just the first three minutes, but it is already amazing fun.

Zatoichi crosses a river, fording it by riding on the shoulders of a peasant (unintentionally illustrating the terrible poverty of feudal economics, imo). The ford is controlled by the benevolent Bunkichi, and the price is surprisingly cheap. Zatoichi arrives at Bunkichi's estate and gives his thanks to Okuni, and he is allowed to stay and serve them, presumably to pay back his debt to her. Bunkichi is planning a big--free--fireworks festival to celebrate the new year and doesn't meet Zatoichi as he is off to meet his rival, Boss Yasugoro.

Yasugoro hates Bunkichi, he wants the Ford, he wants to raise the prices four fold and he thinks Bunkichi is passive and weak. And he's outraged at Bunkichi providing a free festival to the local peasants.

Naturally, Zatoichi will be smack in the middle of the feuding houses, as the tensions quickly escalate into rampant bloodshed.

The film is one of the best shot of the series so far, filled with spectacular shots, particularly when they choose to go overhead. There's a tremendous amount of action packed into the back half of the film, and each battle scene is incredibly well blocked and far more realistic than what I remember from the entries immediately preceding it. During the largest battle, rather than just being a mob, outside, attacking Zatoichi, we have him inside, using the house to his advantage to keep too many from attacking him at once and eventually he begins to snuff (cut) out all the candles, giving himself the advantage of the dark. This culminates in the spectacular visual of Zatoichi carrying a slice of burning candle on his sword in front of him, which is naturally what Criterion chose to illustrate from the film.

Tremendously fun, tightly and intelligently plotted, the film thankfully return to good dialogue and more realistic characters. The film is probably the best Zatoichi film since the first film.

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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#127 Post by movielocke » Sat Mar 14, 2015 4:07 pm

Like the prior film, Fight, Zatoichi, Fight, has a fantastic title. Unlike the prior film, the title is covering up a lackluster plot centered on the oldest and most ineffectual crutch of long-in-the-tootch sitcoms.

that is to say, in the naming convention of Friends, this is "The one where they get a baby."

Which is not to claim that the film is bad, it's just significantly different from the preceding five films. The director of the first film, Kenji Misumi is back in the saddle for this film, and he takes a more measured and laconic pace to the film. This does not necessarily better build the character, because much of the time the slower pace is just filling time with sitcom gags about caring for a baby (getting peed on, diapers, not being able to sleep, not being able to have sex, squabbling with the mother etc), but there are more significant dialogue scenes than films 3-6 had, and that aids in the character development. Given the nice, quiet role that a recurring lullaby plays, the two brief interludes give a nice understated emotional moment to Zatoichi, and actually play into a family-ish subplot of the next film.

It is a little horrific how Zatoichi comes into the role of protecting a baby. He starts the film hiding with a pilgrimage of the blind. He's being hunted by mercenaries because there is contract out on him. Zatoichi eludes them with ease and goes on his way. Two men with an empty palanquin are returning along the same route and offer Zatoichi a discount rate. After haggling he accepts and the mercenaries spy him getting into the palanquin. Out on the road, the palanquin comes upon a woman struggling the same direction, carrying her infant. Zatoichi insists on giving her his ride and the palanquin continues without him. Moments later, the mercenaries strike and brutally stab the palanquin simultaneously from every direction. They run when they realize they've murdered the woman. Zatoichi is summoned and is horrified and accepts the blame for the situation. This is all just the first five minutes.

So now, Zatoichi has a baby, and he takes upon himself a quest to return it to its father, to whom the mother was trying to return. Eventually he picks up a pickpocket companion to aid him in caring for the baby, and along the way are various Fights and a satisfying climax.

The film is slow, unsurprising and fairly satisfying to look at. Other than the sagging middle section of baby gags, there's nothing wrong with the film, but it's not a highlight either.

Film nine, Adventures of Zatoichi is when Zatoichi finally accepts the mantle "Zatoichi" early on and uses his own fame and reputation to his advantage. Unfortunately, this film is one of the more dull looking films, with placid cinematography and unimpressive framing.

Zatoichi is heading to a mountain town to pray on the mountain at the arrival of the new year. On his way, a furtive man asks him to carry a letter to Osen in the town to which he is headed. The film features two pairs of comic relief characters, one is a pair of brilliantly funny comedians, sort of an Abbot and Costello, they are gone from the film too soon (on the other hand, it is rather startling to have such on-the-nose archetypes of comic relief in the film as it's out of step with the film's style). Then when all the extras vanish from the final two acts of the film they are replaced by two presumably orphan acrobat boys of 8 and 10 (though the older one kept looking like a girl from time to time to me, which was distracting as I kept thinking there was a good story to explore there: orphans trying to make it alone as acrobats, the elder hiding her gender all along, but I digress…). The boys act as assistants to Zatoichi and ineffectual comic relief.
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The town is packed with merchants, and presumably tourists, for the new year festivities, and there is nowhere he can stay. but luckily for Zatoichi, bearing the letter to Osen also secures for him a favor from her, and she allows him to share her room along with two other women, one of whom is Saki. The letter is from Osen's brother, he is now a fugitive having escaped an island prison. He was sent to prison after murdering Saki's father--Saki is in town searching for her missing father. Osen's brother was trying to work for the new magistrate and boss, but after doing the murder they asked for, they stabbed him in the back, so to speak, and sent him to prison, happy to let him take the fall for their dirty work.

The new magistrate has his boss announce to the merchants that the Tax on their sales for the new years festival are being raised from 20% to 40%. This raises quite a lot of consternation amongst the crowd, and apparently the magistrate is extremely unpopular. He also has in his employ an extremely gifted ronin, a man Zatoichi considers his equal, or nearly so. They will have a climatic one on one that is perhaps the best single combat in the series since the first film.

Along the way, Zatoichi befriends an old drunk, a man whose story bears startling similarity to Zatoichi's long lost father, and it happens they are from the same home town, but Zatoichi concludes it is impossible, because the man's name is not his father's name.

Zatoichi slices and dices his way through the plot, murdering his average twenty or thirty quota per film. As per usual, this seems to set everything right in the village and he ends the film getting his wish of praying on the mountain as the first light of the new year breaks.
important milestone, less than 24 hours of Zatoichi remaining!

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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#128 Post by movielocke » Mon May 18, 2015 4:27 pm

I am really regretting not getting my thoughts down sooner, as the ones I watched in April have nearly all blended together in my head. Apologies if I mix up what happens in which one.

Zatoichi's Revenge begins with Zatoichi deciding to visit the man who taught him how to massage. He arrives in the village and discovers his sensei has been murdered just weeks earlier, soon he discovers that the daughter of his sensei has been forced to join a brothel, though circumstances have prevented her becoming a prostitute just yet, she's still being humiliated and punished with the callous intent of breaking her will so that she will then become a pliable prostitute like the others.

The local yakuza making the town miserable also employ a gambler known as the weasel--a dice expert who cheats to make sure the house always wins. He has great chemistry with Zatoichi, and is actually very sympathetic and well drawn, as he is sort of forced into his life of crime in order to be able to raise his daughter. Zatoichi befriends both the weasel and his daughter, and they are some of the highlights of the film.
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Zatoichi sneaks around for a while and soon the killing begins, the final fight sequence is very well done, and Zatoichi makes sure to kill the cowardly lead villains last, for a while it seemed as though he was only interested in slaughtering the re-spawning infinite multitudes of lackeys. It's been about a month since I watched it, but I think this film's highlight is a clever little scene in which Zatoichi disappears at the height of the battle to hide out in a noodle shop and then serve some of the villains before killing them.

Having slaughtered the vast majority of the males in their twenties and thirties residing in the area and also rescued the girl from the brothel, Zatoichi wanders on.

The film is not quite one of the best, Despite being excellent in many individual parts, the whole never seemed to gel together as a top entry, however perhaps it's one of the few of the films that would be better as second time around.

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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#129 Post by movielocke » Mon May 18, 2015 5:35 pm

Zatoichi and the Doomed Man is one of the entries that tries to be funny, as I recall, but wasn't very good at it; the pacing and tone of the whole thing are all over the place. If I recall correctly, the film opens with Zatoichi being given fifty lashes for being caught cheating at gambling. Then another prisoner in a cell--the titular doomed man--begs him to get a message out to his friends and family in a nearby town that he is being held on false charges. then he is on the road with a pretty shifty comic relief character who soon realizes he's traveling with Zatoichi, Then the comic relief runs away and begins impersonating Zatoichi. Then Zatoichi decides not to help the doomed man. Then he has to because of something with the impersonation I think, then prologuey setup stuff done the rest of the story unfolds.
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It turns out the doomed man is innocent, but his friends in high places want him to be executed and have arranged for his arrest and sentencing, there is some back and forth with the corrupt ones in the other town and some comical scenes of Zatoichi inflicting a painful massage on the bad guys while he's "undercover" sussing out some information. I'm not sure, but I think in this one Zatoichi only slaughters all of the young men living in the area but leaves the corrupt big bad guys alive. he may have killed them in the end, but I don't quite remember. I think the doomed man is restored to his family though and we discover with "shock" that the zatoichi impersonator is his son and that the son had committed some of the crimes the father was imprisoned for.

This one feels like it could have been an excellent entry, but poor writing, or editing spoiled the effort. The comic relief sometimes works for a little bit, and some of the Zatoichi impersonations are moderately funny, but it's never consistently good.

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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#130 Post by movielocke » Mon May 18, 2015 6:15 pm

Zatoichi and the Chess Expert is hands down the best sequel in the Zatoichi series yet, quite possibly it's even better than the first film, which up until entry twelve had remained the high water mark for the series.

The film opens on a group giving chase, Zatoichi comically boards a boat and it sails away, the group giving chase thwarted. On the boat, Zatoichi proceeds to get up to his usual shenanigans of cheating the cheaters at dice. He also befriends a samurai who likes to play chess, and the two of them strike up a friendly rivalry over the chess board.

On shore, Zatoichi is attacked by the men he'd cheated, who are associated with a local gang. he defeats them, but there's a bystander casualty, a little girl who had also been on the boat is critically injured.
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Zatoichi then tries to cheat some more cheaters at dice but winds up losing everything. He then has to win the money needed for the little girl's medicine honestly. he does so eventually and maintains his friendship with the samurai chess player who has begun to practice being blind to heighten his senses and better anticipate Zatoichi.

The group travels to a hot spring to further the little girl's healing, and there a fat retainer and an emaciated lord are looking for someone a lot like the Samurai, who is on the run. Then shit gets real, and a female samurai shows up. As you immediately suspect, she is the emaciated lord's sister, but what you do not expect is that everyone in the film totally thinks' she's a dude cause she has on dude clothing. The ruse quickly revealed, the arrival of the sister precipitates the back story of her and her brother's search for the samurai that killed their father. All this eventually comes to a head, Zatoichi defeats the samurai in single combat in a rapid finale (no respawning goons or wholesale slaughter of entire towns), but leaves him only wounded, and the gleeful brother and sister kill the samurai. Saddened, Zatoichi wanders on, choosing not to stay with the little girl and her mother that have fallen in love with him.

The film is beautifully written, acted, paced, and shot. The story is coherent and compelling and it is incredibly refreshing that the climax is not yet again the downfall of another corrupt boss and his infinite band of suicidal minions.

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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#131 Post by movielocke » Mon May 18, 2015 7:35 pm

Zatoichi's Vengeance opens in a darkened field with a man being killed by a ronin at the instigation of a gang of cowardly yakuza. The ronin takes his fee and leaves, brushing into Zatoichi going the other way. Zatoichi soon encounters the looters and they attack him and they all die. Zatoichi goes to the dying man, who presses a bag of money into his hand and gives him only his name and the name of his son.

Moderately nonplussed by this, Zatoichi wanders on, he encounters a blind priest playing a guitar like instrument called a biwa.
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throughout the film, the priest will offer bad advice to Zatoichi that he always takes to heart, resulting in a truncated version of the utterly cliche 'superhero loses his powers.'

Zatoichi arrives in the town by happenstance and by happenstance runs into the son he was looking for who takes him to his grandmother and Zatoichi spins some lies for the boy's sake about how successful the father is--so much so that he sent all this money to the boy and the grandmother. then of course we hear all about how terrible the town is now that it is under the brutal thumb of the yakuza. Zatoichi, now broke, wanders away to give a massage, but the only person who wants one is the local prostitute. Zatoichi gives her a massage, but before she can pay, a young girl of thirteen leaps into the room begging for protection, the brothel owner apparently intends to sell her tonight and she's terrified. The prostitute pays the brothel owner for the girl for the night, and now broke she can't pay zatoichi either. Zatoichi leaves, runs into the boy, hears some loud drums and bumps into some yakuza who mock him. Eventually angered by their rudeness zatoichi does some incredible swordsmanship, catching a candle on his blade and using it to threaten the yakuza, recalling the climactic battle of Fight Zatoichi Fight. The boy is wide eyed with wonder at the awesomeness he just witnessed.

Zatoichi wanders to an inn that doesn't want his sword wielding troublemaking about, but the grandmother and boy then shows up to berate the inn owner to let him stay. Around this time the biwa priest tells Zatoichi that the boy likes him too much and so he shouldn't fight because it will only teach the boy the wrong lesson, apparently. So, the next day, instead of saving the inn and the grandmother's business from the yakuza who are brutally beating both and attempting to kidnap and rape the daughter of the inn owner and the wife of another business, Zatoichi lets the yakuza brutally beat him so that the boy won't think he is awesome.

the opening scene samurai shows up and we discover he is the husband to the nice prostitute but had sold her into prostitution because he was such a bad samurai and a drunk, but now he's sober and an awesome samurai apparently.

de-powered Zatoichi lasts for a few more scenes, and the samurai shows himself to be a badass and gets hired to kill Zatoichi, but the samurai can't kill him because the biwa priest's music is too pretty.

All the clunky plot nonsense now out of the way, Zatoichi begins to slaughter the men (who are all the flunkies of the yakuza boss), he also cuts his way through the opening scene samurai. As the slaughter winds down, Zatoichi eventually taunts the boss into attacking. Finally! Zatoichi kill the truly bad person causing all the trouble. Leaving a few hundred corpses behind him, and the grandma and boy and innkeeper now safe, Zatoichi hits the road.

Despite some weak aspects, the film is overall fairly strong and well done throughout, it's disappointingly formulaic after the amazing previous entry, but it has its moments.

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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#132 Post by movielocke » Tue May 19, 2015 7:01 pm

Zatoichi's Pilgrimage through Libertarian Paradise continues with film number fourteen. Zatoichi's Pilgrimage often regresses to the mean for the series, occasionally reverting to the standard series tropes, but it has more in common with the less generic entries in the series even as it often hits all the required elements of a Zatoichi entry.

The film begins with Zatoichi on board a boat, he's going on a pilgrimage to visit a bunch of shrines. Apparently (after thirteen films of slaughter and murdering about a thousand relatively innocent goons in addition to the ten-ish bosses he's slain), Zatoichi is feeling remorse for all the killing he has been "forced" into. Although he never seems to consider that just taking the initiative and killing the boss first would mean he'd killed a lot less, but I guess a thousand lives is the price you have to pay if you insist on being attacked first. Zatoichi arrives on a new island and begins his trek, making his way up an endless stair. Soon he is crossing a bridge and a man with horse, Eigoro, confronts him, calls him out by name and attacks him.

Zatoichi knocks Eigoro and himself into the water and then, having not drawn his sword, decides to do it while the man is incapicated under water, naturally killing the poor lout in a very cool underwater visual.

The man's body drifts onto a shoal and his horse wanders over to the body, it's an extremely effective small sequence and very sad. The horse then leads Zatoichi to the man's town and home. Prologue complete, the story can begin.
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Zatoichi goes in to inform Eigoro's sister, Okichi, that he has killed her brother. She reacts quite sensibly, she grabs a blade and slices into Zatoichi's shoulder. Horrified at what she has done, she immediately apologizes and nurses Zatoichi back to health, falling in love with him in the process. They have outstanding chemistry together, and I was left wishing she was in more films, as she's the most perfectly balanced costar/love interest in the series thus far. There's a surprising amount of sexual tension throughout their relationship, and at least twice the film's editing implies the two of them consummated their relationship, particularly after they go skinny dipping together. There's also an unfortunately inserted Zatoichi dream sequence of the children he might one day have with Okichi.

Meanwhile, nearby, the local boss asshole, Tohachi, monologues about how he forced Eigoro to confront Zatoichi and then schemes as to how to deal with him. Tohachi is a master archer and an even more enthusiastic chewer of scenery, he goes around half shirtless, beer belly hanging out, boldly swaggering and scratching. As with Okichi, he's just instantly charismatic on screen and is one of the better villains in the series thus far.

There is a great deal of back and forth between Zatoichi, Tohachi, Okichi and the townsfolk. The locals are remarkably selfish and self-serving, they opt to let Zatoichi fight Tohachi's legions of goons completely alone, hoping to profit from Zatoichi's sacrifice, without having to contribute any risk themselves. Tohachi forces Zatoichi into this confrontation when he declares he's going to forcibly marry Okichi. Basically backed into corner, Zatoichi fights his way through the goonsquad yet again.

The direction throughout the film is excellent, with bold and intelligent uses of dollies and terrific work in all the dialogue scenes. The final climax is frenzied and notable for how difficult Zatoichi finds this fight, akin to a few earlier volumes when he was also nearly bested, but it lacks the bold and iconic visuals of the best final fight scenes. On the other hand, the climax perfectly paces itself from beginning to end and sets up the final showdown between Zatoichi and Tohachi--sword and arrow--perfectly. So although it's not visually one of the series peaks, editing wise, it is top notch.

Despite his nascent relationship with Okichi, Zatoichi must leave the town stained with his murders behind him, presumably he wanders on to the next shrine, still looking for forgiveness.

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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#133 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue May 19, 2015 8:29 pm

Michiyo Okusu (Kichi) shows up in Kitano's Zatoichi in a fairly substantial role.

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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#134 Post by movielocke » Sun Jul 05, 2015 3:25 pm

That's excellent to hear, I'm looking forward to watching the Kitano film when I finish off the set. Meanwhile, I have to get caught up on posting thoughts from the last couple months of viewings.

The plot of Zatoichi's Cane Sword seems to indicate that I was not alone in my growing displeasure with Zatoichi's murderous ways. The film takes on the central moral question of the series in a way an earlier film (that had Zatoichi pulling a Superman 2 and giving up his powers) never managed. Here the film begins with Zatoichi conning some scummy cheating gamblers, per his usual methods, and as he leaves with his winnings he steps into an eatery. They find him, he responds and slashes through the bar, destroying it, in the process of killing his attackers. The drunkard at the bar, astonished, and staring at the sword invites Ichi to his home.

There he reveals he was once the apprentice of the man who made the fabulous Cane Sword, and in examining the sword demonstrates a crack and flaw near the base that will cause the sword to break (naturally, upon its next use). Zatoichi contemplates this, then gifts the man the sword so that it may remain whole, and he gives up his criminal ways to become a local masseur.

Naturally, the local bosses are just as horrible as their fellow upholders of righteous libertarian ethos were back in those days, and Zatoichi endures their usual privations, unable to do much as he cannot just slash his way through the chorus of bumbling and innocent henchmen minions.
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So, finally, he hatches a plot, sets up a diversion, retrieves his sword and sneaks into the bosses house, waits for the minions to all swarm to his diversion and then confronts the boss and kills him!

Finally! Zatoichi is smart and kills the only person who most needs killing (though a lot of the little generals of most bosses also need killing in most of these films). And, surprise, he discovers the sword smith had forged a new blade and mounted it in his cane sword. His sword is better than ever! Merrily, he goes along, killing some as he exits the film, but not nearly as much slaughter as his usual wont.
My light take on the film belies how strong it is, along with Chess Master and the first film, this is the best Zatoichi film in the series, and my current favorite. The characterization is outstanding, sharp dialogue, clean focused plotting, and technically outstanding. This is perhaps the only entry in the series thus far that does not have any glaring weak points.

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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#135 Post by movielocke » Sun Jul 05, 2015 3:42 pm

Zatoichi the Outlaw continues the much more satisfying story and plot construction of the previous two films. This film dives into questioning the general social order, it opens with a swordless samurai, Ohara, defeating several attackers, but not killing them. He and Zatoichi exchange words, and Ichi admires his control.

It turns out Ohara is something of a peasant advocate, working to help them reform themselves and work their way out of the feudal poverty trap engineered to keep them in their place. He does this by opposing gambling and drinking and sex. The local bosses, less yakuza and more merchants this time, are not so happy with this, as they make their living by using gambling and drinking and prostitutes to separate the farmer peasants from all their money. They want Ohara dead, and the peasants to take up their vices again so their pleasant livelyhood can continue unimpeded. the national government wants the same thing.

Shockingly, Ichi gets involved in the whole thing. This time however,
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he is used by one of the bosses, Boss Asagoro, to throw out some of the corrupt boss/merchants who were opposing Ohara and trying to implement the old systems. Having been Asagoro's right hand man, Ichi marches on. And then comes to find out that Asagoro was just using Ichi to consolidate power and eliminate rivals. Outraged, Zatoichi returns to confront Asagoro and his minions.
Perhaps it's because the previous two films were so excellent, but even with the strong story, this film felt like a little more one dimensional, as though they'd taken an unused treatment from earlier in the series, and spiffied it up with directly confronting the feudal system. While the previous films were relatively effortless, this one often seems to be trying too hard while also playing it very safe--making sure it is by-the-numbers in terms of the fight scenes.

Perhaps people did not like the less action packed Cane Sword film? Because it feels like they overcorrected in the other direction on this one, cramming too much in. Thematically, this film would make an excellent prequel to Zatoichi's Pilgrimage and Cane Sword, rather than following them.

It's still one of the better entries in the series, and one I'd definitely watch again because of the extra content, but it's just not one I'm passionate about, for whatever reason.

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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#136 Post by movielocke » Sun Jul 05, 2015 4:09 pm

Zatoichi Challenged at first makes you worried, because oh god no, it again has a kid becoming Zatoichi's side kick. However, you quickly realize the film has the same excellent handle on its story as the most recent entries, and you even more quickly realize this is perhaps the most stunningly photographed film in the series, climaxing in an utterly iconic showdown in the falling snow.

The film opens on a samurai, Akazuka, cutting his way through attackers as Ichi listens, they acknowledge one another and go on their separate ways. Then Zatoichi takes shelter at an inn during a rainstorm, there a dying woman begs him to take her son to the boys father, an artist that has gone missing. Hands tied, Zatoichi travels to the next town in search of the boy's father, Shokichi. They team up with a group of traveling actors, which allows for yet another odd, early music interlude as one of the women sings a song. They are encountered along the way by a rough group of henchmen who insist they come to boss so and so, but the group is pledged to the traditional boss of the region, not the up and coming one. the boy prevents Ichi from intervening as the henchmen turn violent, but the group is suddenly saved by Akazuka, who runs the henchmen off, and is an old friend of the singer, who implies he has a mysterious (and powerful) past.
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In town, it is mystery solving time as Zatoichi tries to hunt down the missing artist Shokichi. His investigations criss cross the towns industry (pottery, it seems), and cris-crosses paths with Akazuka and the local pair of bosses. Unbeknownst to Zatoichi, the artist is a debt prisoner to the local bosses and he is working off gambling debts by painting beautiful plates of scantily clad women for them. They are selling these plates--apparently forbidden, the film never really explains anything about them other than strongly declaring they are naughty and verboten--on the black market.

Ichi is about to crack the case, confronting one of the bosses on a moonlit bridge, terrifying the boss who is on the verge of confessing Shokichi's whereabouts, when the man is cut down from behind by none other than Akazuka, who could care less about the information Ichi wanted. Word spreads that Zatoichi is in town, and everyone assumes he killed the boss merchant for no reason.

Eventually, Ichi rescues Shokichi and reunites him with the boy, but it is happening at the same time that Akazuka is methodically going through the household of the boss imprisoning Shokichi and murdering everyone as Zatoichi usually does (but this time did not). Akazuka confronts Ichi outside the household, seconds after the boy is reunited and he and Ichi fight each other one on one in the falling snow. It is instantly the most iconic climax to a film since Zatoichi's Flashing Sword. The fight is terrific, but it also illustrates why there are so few one-on-one fights in the series, the swords and Ichi's grip and style are not really good for a lightsaber esque fencing back and forth. So the fight is exciting, interesting and fun to watch, especially as Akazuka is Ichi's equal, even wounding him, but it also illustrates why there are so few such fights in the series.

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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#137 Post by movielocke » Sun Jul 05, 2015 4:28 pm

Zatoichi and the Fugitives continues the excellent streak of films with another superb story that manages to hit all the required serial beats without feeling formulaic. The film guest stars Takashi Shimura in a role of Dr. Junan, and features the fun wrinkle of local outlaws interacting with the local merchant boss and both interacting with Ichi. The film continues the exposure of feudal awfulness by expanding on the debt slavery idea of the previous film.

Ichi, wandering comes to a town that is a hub for silk and befriends Dr. Junan, Ichi decides to work for him as a masseur. The local merchant boss, Matsugoro, is consolidating a monopoloy within the region and his henchmen have some minor conflicts at the market with competitors. Matsugoro is also running a profitable debt-slavery business to help him in cornering the market.
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Soon, Ichi will interfere, forcing Matsugoro at sword point to free a dying woman into the care of her father.

But before that, there is a vicious band of fugitives in the region, that the governmental overlords are hunting down. Matsugoro gives them succor and a hiding place in exchange for them doing his dirty work, namely killing off competitors or forcing them under Matsugoro's monopoly. Eventually he sics them on Ichi as well. Ichi goes into hiding, which results in Junan and his daughter being captured and tortured for information. Ichi rescues them and eventually kills off Matsugoro and all the fugitives and henchmen as well.

Unfortunately for Ichi, the last fugitive he killed just happened to be the son of Junan, and the doctor and daughter arrive just in time to witness Ichi killing said fugitive. Once again without friend or shelter, and having again taken up the mantle of mass murder, Zatoichi moves on to the next city.

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knives
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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#138 Post by knives » Tue Aug 04, 2015 3:45 am

Fire Festival is easily the weirdest film in the series though only hinting at the degree of weirdness Katsu's production company could produce. The plot is fairly standard, but the cast is stuffed with an odd assortment of characters even if they're one offs like the Hanzo-esque tattooed prostitute or the seemingly gay pimp that shows up for no reason. Misumi, who really is the best director of these sorts of films, has a lot of fun roving the camera and overexposing the film giving a green proto-Kovacs (if far less grainy) washed out look to the film. There's even a bath house fight that anticipates Eastern Promises with the potential to one up it if Katsu and Misumi were allowed to show the nudity the film so clearly wants to play with. It ends with a great visual though. That's not even getting to Nakadai randomly being present just for the atmosphere he brings. The Zatoichi series isn't one of the best, but as soon as Katsu took over as producer it jumped an amazing amount in quality.

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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#139 Post by movielocke » Tue Aug 04, 2015 3:53 pm

Samaritan Zatoichi is a solid entry within the series. Zatoichi joins a Yakuza gang to kill a recalcitrant and well armed welcher. After the local bumbling buffoons fail en masse to kill him, Zatoichi does so with his usual one stroke expediency. Unfortunately, the man's sister, Osode, arrives to see the killing stroke, and she also arrives with the money to pay off the debt. The local Yakuza tell her its not enough and leer that she'll have to pay the interest with her body. Zatoichi takes care of that problem and brings Osode under his protection, pledging to take her to her Aunt's tea shop in a neighboring town.
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It turns out the local boss only wanted the brother killed to he could offer Osode to the local magistrate as a prize, naturally, the magistrate is based in the Aunt's neighboring town. There's also a ronin about who wants to kill Zatoichi and also wants Osode.

Recalling the stupid plots of the worst entries of the series, the film scurries about haphazardly as Osode wavers between factions--but at least it is coherent plotting, even if the machinations are rather dumb. The film is saved by the camera work and staging and the usual exceptional fights. It's nothing special, but it's never particularly great either.

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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#140 Post by movielocke » Sat Aug 22, 2015 3:25 pm

Zatoichi meets Yojimbo is a film I'd been looking forward to seeing, based on the title, since the gigantic Zatoichi set was announced. The film does not disappoint. Beautifully photographed with a darker, thicker color palatte than a typical entry in the series, the film immediately possesses more of an atmospheric quality--something that soon becomes evident with the periodic appearances of Kurosawa rain. What makes the film work though, is that Yojimbo is a fully formed character with his own desires and goals that he pursues on a more or less equal footing as Ichi. This immediately balances the film, most Zatoichi films have supporting characters or villains who are very flat, occasionally textured and nuanced, the film often defaults to simple types which leaves Zatoichi the only standout character and makes it hard for great dialog or character scenes to appear throughout an entry. Having Yojimbo in the film, and Mifune's presence, immediately solves that problem. It is also very handy that the two titular characters are warily standoffish, they are never quite enemies nor are they ever quite friends. They develop a strong working relationship throughout the film, and everytime they come into contact the film really hits it's stride. The film is refreshing, well plotted with solid action. It's also very refreshing to see Yojimbo's brutalist fighting style contrast to Ichi's speed and precision.

Roughly the plot has Ichi returning to a village, there he discovers an old man--the former village chief and friend of Ichi--is making buddha statues and planting a buddha garden outside the town, one statue for every person killed a few years ago in a Zatoichi esque slaughter of the town. Now the businessmen roughly run the town and Ichi's flame in this village has become a madame of the local hooker hotel. Yojimbo is her bouncer, it seems, and he is also in love with her (as Ichi once was). Ichi bounces about the town, working for the businessman and working him for information. A third reknowned samurai arrives and gradually a complicated plot involving the minting of gold coins emerges and is unraveled by the trio of ronin.

Easily one I'll rewatch again, the film is one of the strongest entries in the series.

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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#141 Post by movielocke » Sat Aug 22, 2015 3:36 pm

Zatoichi goes to the Fire Festival welcomes the series to the pure kookery and nuttiness of the seventies. It also, seemingly, has no Fire Festival anywhere in the film (at the very least, I don't recall any festival being mentioned nor occurring anywhere in the film!). Stylistically, the film makes an ill advised leap into wild cutting and, most memorably, a hilariously comic scenario (which never seems to end) involving Zatoichi stark naked fighting a hundred naked yakuza minions in a bathhouse. Every time a series of naked asses ran past the screen I burst out laughing. I have no idea if the scene is supposed to be comic or serious, it comes out of nowhere, isn't well motivated within the plot of the film and just seems like the sort of silly studio note you might expect from Hollywood executives in the 1980s.

Interestingly, the film also features the first trans or gay character within the series, with a fey young lad who wants Ichi to become his "master" and teach him how to be a proper Yakuza boss. The teen is a low level pimp with a handful of girls in his employ, the film never really goes anywhere interesting with the possibilities of this character, but he's significant to note.

The plot of the film is solid, really the film ought to be better as it's well written with a great premise, unfortunately the approaches and battles sort of drag the film down with the cornball aesthetics. In short, Ichi and other yakuza bosses have been summoned by the half blind/blind "boss of bosses" a man who knows fully how dangerous Ichi is because of their shared blindness. Eventually the group of yakuza bosses all decide to solve the Zatoichi problem and order him killed. Naturally this doesn't work out quite well. There's a lot of excellent stuff in this film, but it never seems to cohere into one of the stronger entries.

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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#142 Post by movielocke » Mon Aug 24, 2015 6:36 pm

Zatoichi Meets the One-Armed Swordsman is one baffling plot hole away from being a stronger entry. The film has a terrific score, very spaghetti western, and a solid plot one not even marred by including yet another child. The fight scenes are overall pretty good, though there are some sequences that are shot in closeup for the clear reason of hiding poor work by the titular character. The film also adopts the goofball aesthetics of kittycat martial arts movies, kitties able to leap tall buildings in a single bound with accompanying looney tunes sound effect! I'm not sure whether this is good or bad, but I lean towards disliking it.
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The film begins with a troop of Chinese performers encountering the title character, also Chinese, he is on a pilgrimage to a martial arts temple to study with the monks, they offer to guide him. Their son runs in front of a tribute procession, and both parents die preventing samurai from instantly slaughtering the child (as is the wont of samurai). The one armed swordsman intervenes with clumsy karate chops and sword work, dispatching several of the villains before fleeing. the child hides. The remaining samurai split up between slaughtering the innocent peasant witnesses to the event and giving chase. Two peasants survive in hiding as does the boy. The boy is weeping over his father's dying body when Zatoichi arrives and takes the boy into his protection.

They arrive in the next inn and Ichi quickly realizes the boy's chinese heritage is a liability when he hears a garbled version of the events. The entire region is hunting the one armed swordsman. Ichi quickly exits the town, and, when on the road, who should he run into but the title character. The man recognizes the boy and they team up, with the boy translating. Eventually they happen upon the cottage housing the other peasants who escaped the slaughter, and bizarrely, these peasants have no problem with harboring the fugitives, despite the risk to themselves.

The next day, Ichi heads into town for supplies without telling anyone, he hears the swordsman has been found and rushes back to the cottage. The peasants have been slaughtered, and the boy and swordsman are missing. the peasant daughter survives but is taken hostage. the swordsman believes Ichi betrayed him. While interrogating the daughter, the headman tells her Ichi betrayed her. Ichi then shows up in one of the best scenes of the entire series and negotiates the daughter's release by terrorizing the headman and slicing off his ear. He otherwise doesn't kill anyone and taking the headman hostage at swordpoint, he and the daughter walk out together.

And here is where the film goes profoundly wrong. Having just witnessed an incredible rescue, the daughter spits in his face, accuses him, and runs off. Given she just watched most of the prior encounter, this is one of the most unmotivated character decisions in the entire series, and it completely wrecks the outstanding inversion of the series tropes that just preceded it.

Ichi then kills the people that betrayed the peasants in the local town bar. Meanwhile, the daughter meets up with the swordsman and boy at the temple. A monk there, a longtime friend of the swordsman, decides to sell out the swordsman for a 1000 ryu. when the samurai ineffectively try to seize the swordsman, but only abscond with the boy, the monk is quick to finger zatoichi as the villain responsible yet again. A series of quick events drive to the climax, parallel battles where the swordsman and Ichi, respectively, slaughter their way through an improbable number of respawning goons. Eventually, Ichi arrives at the swordsman's battleground, and they face off, one on one. It is one of the better one on one fights, Ichi, creatively blinds the fellow with the reflections from his sword, and the desolate desert landscape nicely matches the plucking spaghetti western score.
Aside from the epic plot/character fail in the center of the film, these elements are actually pretty strong. and if you also brush aside the cheesiness it's almost a great entry.

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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#143 Post by Orlac » Tue Aug 25, 2015 4:23 am

Thanks to the abysmally poor UK DVD, this was my first Zatoichi film. It's also what made me a Jimmy Wang Yu fan, after being underwhelmed by him in The Killer Meteors and Fantasy Mission Force. Looking at it alongside the other entries in the series, the fights are rather silly looking. Wang Yu is definetly not suited to chanbara style combat with his tiny half-sword.

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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#144 Post by Orlac » Tue Aug 25, 2015 4:31 am

Still love it, though!

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knives
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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#145 Post by knives » Tue Aug 25, 2015 8:45 am

I actually found it to be the weakest of the series with a dull aesthetic and a major hinderence in the lack of personality from Wang. His character is just dull without any real personality beyond Chinese which shouldn't count. Katsu simply outclasses him so that the ending comes as a relief. It is a poor man next to Yojimbo.
Last edited by knives on Wed Aug 26, 2015 12:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Orlac
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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#146 Post by Orlac » Wed Aug 26, 2015 8:21 am

Wang Yu never was much of an actor at that point. Chang Yi, who plays the murdered father of the little boy, was far more versatile.

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movielocke
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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#147 Post by movielocke » Thu Aug 27, 2015 3:11 am

While I don't think it's the weakest in the series it does seem to throw back to the less cohesive efforts of the weakest films. I didn't find wang especially dull, I thought he gave a fairly decent performance, I think his character was marred by two dimensional writing and he couldn't really overcome a script whose plot requires selective dumbness from all the non Ichi characters if hitting a plot point is at stake.

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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#148 Post by movielocke » Thu Aug 27, 2015 3:28 am

Sorry for the double post, still getting used to tapa talk iPad app.

zatoichi at large feels like the series is on a downslope. The plot of an infant is recycled as are most of the other plot beats, everything feels very used. like the previous film it heavily relies on slaughtering endlessly spawning goons, and like the worst early entries, zatoichi inexplicably keeps the boss alive for the soul purpose of giving Ichi an excuse to murder more of the boss' underling goons. The villain is actually pretty terrific, a vampiric looking boss who immediately made me think of the general at Derra in " lawrence of Arabia"--sadistic, cruel; he somehow seems more frightening because of the casual ways he dehumanizes the girls who will be his sexual victims. There are some nice cinematography moments, particularly the fiery ending, or earlier beating scene, but like much of the plot it feels visually tired. Like the previous film this has horrible humor in the first half of the film, so you'll have to suffer through more dick and fart jokes, hyuk hyuk. Making this one slightly worse is the heavy filler insertion of comic relief of terrible local performers doing their shtick, it's awful.

Zatoichi delivers a baby, the woman dies and he is saddled with another infant tasked with finding the absent father. Fortunately, he arrives in a town with no boss because of upstanding local deputy (complete with anachronistic whingey teenage son)--oh no an evil boss arrived in town and old man does nothing. What will happen?

Orlac
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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#149 Post by Orlac » Thu Aug 27, 2015 7:28 am

movielocke wrote:While I don't think it's the weakest in the series it does seem to throw back to the less cohesive efforts of the weakest films. I didn't find wang especially dull, I thought he gave a fairly decent performance, I think his character was marred by two dimensional writing and he couldn't really overcome a script whose plot requires selective dumbness from all the non Ichi characters if hitting a plot point is at stake.
I don't find him dull either. He's actually at a much better advantage then usual, as you can hear his real voice. HK actors, even the stars, were routinely dubbed by established voice actors at the time - Wang's usual dubber was Roy Chiao.

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Re: 679 Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman

#150 Post by movielocke » Fri Aug 28, 2015 2:43 pm

Zatoichi in Desperation is a profoundly disturbing film, the film doesn't spare children, condemns prostitution and sexually abuses a mentally handicapped character for comic relief. At times it's almost one of the great films of the series, then you get a sexual abuse scene, complete with comic cumming by the poor character and then the ending of the film results in our hero going braindead for no apparent reason other than a sociopathic desire to indulge in the pleasure of killing more peasant goons first. It's also got an absolutely ridiculous cinematically novel 'hook' in the finale fight scenes that is supposed to up the stakes but is nothing more than profoundly stupid.
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Zatoichi meets an old woman on a bridge, after their chat, she falls to her death while reaching for the coin Ichi offered her for her help. Guilt ridden, he takes her instrument to the nearby city to search out her daughter (this seems to be the first Zatoichi film set in a city rather than a country village). She is a top prostitute at a local brothel and Zatoichi decides to mix it up with the local yakuza gambling dins to make enough money to buy out her contract.

Meanwhile, there is a young orphan girl of fourteen and her brother of four with the former working as a server at the brothel, she's in danger. Her brother throws a rock at a yakuza general and is brutally beaten to death by the adult, on camera, for the crime. she takes his body and walks into the ocean, suiciding as he had suggested earlier in the film, they never really encounter Ichi, but it's a heartbreaking aside in the story.

Ichi also has periodic hyperedited flashbacks to the woman falling to her death, presumably we're to think she is haunting him? These are irritating everytime they crop up, though they are not nearly as irritating as the completely awful score which is quite easily the worst score of the series.

The film takes an inexplicable turn at the end. After being attacked in the rain, and having the woman kidnapped, Ichi hunts down the boss and walks into his den. For no reason whatsoever, Ichi decides not to defend the woman, to lay down his sword, not kill any of the boss nor goons and allow the boss to maim him in both hands, stabbing with a whale harpoon into the back of each hand. It's easily the stupidest character decision in 24 films, and it serves only one purpose a "KEWL(!)" climax where Ichi ties his sword to his wrist and is just as good as ever. Never mind He'd never be able to get enough leverage to slice a cucumber with indirect swinging, it looks kewl dude so it must be awesome. The finale is a certain low point for the entire series, which is unfortunate because the rest of the film is quite well made and moving, so long as you try strenuously to ignore the scene of sexual abuse as comedy.

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