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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.
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.
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.
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 ...