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Zatoichi Monogatari

Zatoichi
The Tale of Zatoichi

Japan 1962
produced by
Ikuo Kubodera for Daiei
directed by Kenji Misumi
starring Shintaro Katsu, Shigeru Amachi, Masayo Banri, Ryuzo Shimada, Michio Minami, Eijiro Yanagi, Hajime Mitamura, Chitose Maki, Ikuko Mori, Toshio Chiba, Manabu Morita, Yoichi Funaki, Kinya Ichikawa, Eigoro Onoe, Yoshito Yamaji, Yukio Horikita, Ryuuji Fukui
screenplay by Minoru Inuzika, based on a short story by Kan Shimozawa, music by Akira Ifukube

Zatoichi, Daiei's Zatoichi, Zatoichi (Shintaro Katsu)

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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Ichi (Shintaro Katsu), a blind masseur, is wandering the countryside, looking for nothing else than a quiet space to live in peace ... but that's almost made impossible by his predilection for gamgling (& winning), his swordsmastery, & his refusal to join any yakuza clan.

One day he comes to Iioka to visit his friend Sukegoro (Eijiro Yanagi), who has invited him long ago, but now that he is the head yakuza of Iioka & runs the local gambling den, it becomes clear that he had ulterior motives to invite the masseur: He has been fighting for customers with the Sasagawe head Yakuza & gambling den owner Shigezo (Ryuzo Shimada) for years, but now the fight is on the verge of becoming a head-on battle, since Shigezo has hired a samurai himself, Hirate (Shigero Amachi), who might be a drunkard & an asthmatic, but he's also a master with the sword ... &, almost against his will, Ichi lets himself be dragged into the whole affair. Everything that is not happening yet, it seems, is only the calm before the storm.

One day, while fishing, Ichi does actually meet Hirate, & finds him to be as unwilling to go to a war that doesn't concern him as he is, & soon the 2 become close friends, repeatedly going fishing & drinking together ... but they know they probably can't avoid having to kill one another.

Ichi also takes the time before the war to start a relationship with Tane (Masayo Banri), the sister of Sukegoro's loyal follower Tate (Michio Minami), who is equally fed up as him with the gangsters' attitude.

Then the war is imminent, & when Ichi hears that Huirate has coughed up blood the previous night& will be unable to fight, he decides this is the best opportunity to wiggle out of the affair, & he is even let go by Sukegoro, as without the others having the samurai (Hirate) he figures he doesn't need a swordsmaster himself anymore whom he has to pay handsomely.

Then though Shigezo of Sakasawa persuades Hirate to join the battle after all, as he claims that should the samurai not participate, he is to use a gun against Zatoichi (of whose resignation he doesn't know). & only when Ichi hears that Hirate is going to fight out of honour & loyalty towards himdoes Ichi fight too, & ultimately the 2 friends engage in mortal combat in a maze like fishing village ... & pretty much against his will, Ichi kills Hirate.

In the end, Sukegoro has won out over Shigezo & massacred him & his men, & he celebrates his triumph, even if several of his closest men are dead as well. Ichi of course cannot join in & he gravely insults Sukegoro before leaving ... which leads Tate, now second in command in Sukegoro's gang, totry to ambush & kill him ... but Ichi responds instinctively by killing his attacker without even knowing whom he killed. In the end he leaves Iioka for good, even leaving Tane, his lover behind.

 

Great piece of samurai cinema that doesn't confine itself to tell the story of a hero as a knight in shining armour fighting his unworthy opponents, but depicts its hero as a blind man (which alone is unusual enough), who is just about as cunning & deceiving as everyone else, & who's a gambler out of passion, a killer out of need, & it seems to be almost coincidence that most of the other characters have considerably less honour left inside themselves as him. But what makes the film work is that all this is not told in a preachy mode but an entertainind story with quite some violent outbursts & the occasional hint of irony, too.

The success of this movie should eventually spawn 24 sequels between 1962 & 1973, & one more in 1988, all starring Shintaro Katsu, as well as a tv-series (also starring him) ... but of course, the stories would become more & more formulaic as the series progressed ...

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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Thanks for watching !!!

 

 

Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
cuddly toys and
shopping mall Santas,
love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

is all of that.

 

Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
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a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
from the post-apocalyptic
to the weirdly romantic,
tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
the twisted mind of
screenwriter and film reviewer
Michael Haberfelner.

 

Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner

 

Out now from
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directed by
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written by
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out now on DVD