I Saw A Film!
So I’m delving into an old Favorite. Zatoichi is the ultimate anti-hero, meting out his brand of justice only when necessary, and never more than he needs to. As a strange sort of outlaw, he lives entirely on his wages as a masseur and tips for other favors, or by duping gamblers with some vintage tricks sure to rile the gangsters. Since his skills provide him confidence in their company, he fleeces them with ease.
Zatoichi is a tale much like Yojimbo, in which a rogue who basically finds himself in a terrific (also in in terrifying) situation to take advantage of a couple of small town warring families with his god-like sword skills, soon finds himself having to struggle with his concern for some victims of the warring factions that he hadn’t thought about previously. In Yojimbo this is where the story really becomes fascinating, because before that he wasn’t a hero, he was just another ronin thug, albeit a vastly more skillful one. And in Kurosawa films, no good deed goes unpunished!
In Zatoichi things are a bit different. When Zatoichi is brought into the fray between two stupid clans vying for control of a town, he already knows it’s not worth his efforts, but, a young woman’s death, and the innocent caught up in the mess, including an ill samurai from Edo, bring Zatoichi and his reverse-grip sword skills to bear.
We are teased about the amazing feats of swordplay throughout the film, but Zatoichi refuses to entertain with them. He is a serious individual (unless he’s having a drink or gambling with thugs) and even walks chastely away from the erstwhile affections of the ladies. But the character, not beautiful in any conventional sense, not flashy in dress, and often sweaty actually, rises to the unfortunate occasions he is so often thrust into. He’s rather honest about his situation, as a blind man, as a traveling masseur just eking out an existence, he’s rather tethered to the conditions of the age- we make the best of it. People regularly misunderstand what blindness means. He’s literally handed lanterns at night. He’s frequently told, “Be careful it’s dark out!” All of this quite realistic human folly.
The pot / plot boils over, of course, and soon enough the consumptive Samurai from Edo must duel with the legendary blind swordsman. It’s a fight that brings emotion rather than cheers.
Zatoichi gives a speech at the end of the film, dressing down the new boss of the town for celebrating while the corpses lie about. Zatoichi’s payment early in the film, a kind of retainer for his skills, was not why he fought the samurai. The samurai chose to fight him. Zatoichi throws the money back, gives his sword away, and walks into the forest with the help of a stick.
Now that’s a man. Make no mistake.
This unsurpassed first installment has many fans, and has been much fashioned after. But the 3.99 price is well worth your entry point into Shintaro Katsu’s brilliant invention, this isn’t just a fantasy swordsman film.